Three locals up for judgeship vacated by Blankenship

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The New River Valley judgeship vacated at the end of last year by Michael Keith Blankenship is still up for grabs, and three from the Twin Counties — two attorneys and a former prosecutor — are among the six being considered for his replacement

The position for a juvenile and domestic relations court judge to sit in the 27th judicial circuit is scheduled to be filled next week in the General Assembly.

But that's not likely to happen because nearly every legislator and bar association that represents the district is backing a different candidate.

If the legislators can't come a consensus on who to appoint to a six-year term, the circuit court judges in the district will appoint someone to serve until next year.

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

A former Wythe County prosecutor, Blankenship now has a private practice in Wytheville.

The 27th judicial circuit includes the counties of Bland, Carroll, Floyd, Giles, Grayson, Montgomery, Pulaski and Wythe, and the cities of Radford and Galax.

Del. Bill Carrico (R-Grayson County) said he supports former Grayson Commonwealth's Attorney Dawn Davis Cox, calling her "a very viable choice" and saying she has experience as a prosecutor and in family law.

Sen. Roscoe Reynolds (D-Henry County) said he supports Jay Tompkins IV, a Hillsville attorney who also has the support of the bar associations in Carroll County and Wythe County.

The Grayson-Galax Bar Association endorsed Galax attorney Karen Loftin.

"She is, in my opinion, very ready and very capable of going forward and immediately stepping in to serve," said bar association president Roger Brooks.

Others mentioned as possible candidates for the position include Kathryn Hagwood, a Wytheville attorney who was endorsed by the Montgomery-Radford Bar Association; Pearisburg attorney Richard Chidester, who was endorsed by the Giles association; and Peggy Frank, a Christiansburg lawyer and former prosecutor who unsuccessfully ran for the House of Delegates in 2007.

Frank was endorsed by the bar associations in both Pulaski and Floyd counties and is backed by Sen. John Edwards (D-Roanoke) and Sen. Phillip Puckett (D-Russell County.)

Sen. Ralph Smith (R-Botetourt County) said he hasn't made a decision yet.

"I've got an open mind," he said this week.

Loftin, Hagwood and Chidester are among those who have served as substitute judges.

Judgeships are typically decided in the House and Senate, but if legislators can't agree on a person, the circuit judges of the district together will make an appointment.

The person they select would serve until next year, when the General Assembly would try again to appoint someone for the full six-year term.

If that happens, the person appointed by the circuit court judges is likely to have an advantage next year.