Two Loudoun County Circuit Court Judges are up for reappointment during this year’s General Assembly session and the typically routine reelection is in question for one of them.
Stephen E. Sincavage was appointed to the bench by Gov. Bob McDonnell in 2013 to fill the seat of retired Judge James H. Chamblin. He was elected to a full eight-year term in 2014. His term expires this month.
Jeanette A. Irby was elected to the bench in 2014 to fill the seat of retired Judge Thomas D. Horne. Her term expires Dec. 1.
Both were proposed for reelection by the state Senate, but during a vote on the floor of the House of Delegates last week, Irby’s name was one of two judges removed from the nomination list. The House subsequently voted to approve the nomination of Judge Tanya Bullock of the Second Circuit in Virginia Beach, but a vote to add Irby back on the list was passed by for the day on the motion of Courts of Justice Committee Vice Chairman Les R. Adams (R-16). As of Tuesday, her nomination had not been revisited. A third judge, Lynn S. Brice of the 12th Circuit in Chesterfield was nominated by the House, but not the Senate.
During a Dec. 10 interview before members of the House Courts of Justice Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee, questions to Irby centered on her low scores in the Judicial Performance Evaluations, which include input from attorneys and courtroom staff members. Irby was ranked 47th among the 50 Circuit, District and Juvenile and Domestic Relations judges up for reelection. She received low scores in eight of the 20 evaluation categories, including fairness, impartiality, and courtesy and respect.
“I find it to be one of the most fulfilling positions I have had throughout my career. I would like to continue because I feel I continue to grow with my experience,” she told the assembly members. She noted that it takes a few years to get up to speed on the bench and said she continues to strive for improvements.
Sen. R. Creigh Deeds (D-25), co-chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee asked about the low scores for demeanor and knowledge of the law.
“Personally, they were disappointing to me. But when I took a step back and looked at it, I thought there is room for me to make some improvements, to assess what I am doing, to try to really ascertain what I can do to focus on to make myself a better judge,” Irby said.
She said the evaluations and her work with more experienced court mentors were important as she continues to grow in the job.
“The feedback is very important to me because you know many times people don’t want to give feedback to a judge,” she said. “It was very helpful to me to recognize that my perceptions of what I was doing was not perceived the way I thought it was.”
“I can only promise you that I will continue to do all that I can to deliver justice and an experience in my courtroom where people feel they have been well served by me and their community,” she said.
Del. Terry Kilgore (R-1) cited his concerns about low scores for patience and courtesy. He said it was important for judges to make people feel welcome and comfortable in the courtroom.
“My granddad used to say, ‘it doesn’t cost anything to be nice.’ That’s my advice that I’m going to leave with you,” Kilgore said.
Sen. Jennifer B. Boysko (D-33), the only member of the Loudoun delegation with a seat on the House or Senate committees overseeing the courts, said she had experienced nothing but professional and positive interactions with Irby and looked forward to helping her in her next term.
Sen. J. Chapman Petersen (D-34) said he had appeared in cases in Irby’s courtroom and had no reservations.
Rachel Robinson, president of the Loudoun County Bar Association, said she was shocked and surprised the see Irby’s name removed from the nomination list. No formal action is planned by the association at this time, she said, although individual attorneys are reaching out to share their views with legislators.
In the event Irby is not reappointed, Robinson said she expected there would be a separate nomination process to fill the open seat and that the local Bar would have the opportunity to vet candidates for the seat.