Bench still empty in 27th Judicial District

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By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

The General Assembly made no appointment to fill the vacant 27th Judicial District Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court judgeship before adjourning this year's session.

That means that no action has been taken to find a permanent replacement for Michael Keith Blankenship, who resigned from that post at the end of last year.

Legislators normally make the judicial appointments, but the state senators and delegates could not come to a consensus on the pool of candidates for the judgeship.

Those candidates included former a Grayson commonwealth's attorney, Dawn Davis Cox; Hillsville attorney Jay Tompkins IV; Galax attorney Karen Loftin; Wytheville attorney Kathryn Hagwood; Pearisburg attorney Richard Chidester; and Christiansburg lawyer Peggy Frank.

All the candidates have received endorsements from throughout the legal community, but there was no clear frontrunner.

Circuit court judges for the district could make an interim appointment to the lower court, said Mary Kate Felch, senior research associate for the Division of Legislative Services. It is not clear that the circuit court judges will take that step, either.

State law allows circuit court judges to make an appoint until the next session of the General Assembly could take up the matter, she said.

The interim appointment would expire 30 days after the start of the next legislative session.

"It's going to have to be an appointment by the circuit court judges because the General Assembly is not going to be in special session to take it up," Felch explained.

In the event that circuit court judges don't make an appointment, the juvenile and domestic relations court that covers eight counties and two cities in the region — including Carroll, Grayson and Galax — will have to continue using substitute judges.

Blankenship, 44, resigned from the position Dec. 31. No reason was given, but Blankenship had faced his own legal troubles last year.

He pleaded guilty in Powhatan General District Court in August 2008 to a misdemeanor hit-and-run charge that stemmed from an April incident. In May, he pleaded guilty in Smyth County General District Court to charges of reckless driving and refusing to submit to a Breathalyzer test.