Loudoun’s legal community recorded a hard-fought victory during the 2019 General Assembly session when funding was restored for a vacant Circuit Court judgeship.
The vacancy was created two years earlier with the retirement of Burke F. McCahill just after a long-awaited new Circuit Court judgeship was created by the General Assembly to handle the growing and complex docket of cases in Loudoun. Defunding McCahill’s seat kept the Loudoun bench at three judges.
With funding finally in hand to seat the fourth judge in this year’s state budget, a new controversy emerged over filling the seat.
In 2017, with the endorsement of the Loudoun Bar Association and bipartisan support of other local leaders, Leesburg Attorney Alexander N. Levay was vetted by the Assembly and certified for the post just before the surprise funding cut. He remained the leading candidate as Loudoun’s delegation worked to restore funding during the 2018 session. However, by the time money was authorized in 2019, Levay withdrew from consideration.
The Loudoun Bar Association’s review process resulted in two leading candidates—Leesburg Attorney Lorrie Sinclair and Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Sean Morgan. But, while Loudoun leaders conducted their candidate reviews, Fauquier County Commonwealth’s Attorney James P. Fisher already was under consideration for the post in Richmond with the backing of influential Republicans. Despite objections from members of the Loudoun delegation—and protests from Loudoun NAACP leaders who pushed for Sinclair to be elected as Loudoun’s first black judge—Fisher got the appointment.
Weeks later, Judge Jeffrey Parker, who presided over cases in Fauquier and Rappahannock counties that are part of the 20th Circuit with Loudoun, announced his plans to retire. Loudoun County Commonwealth’s Attorney James E. Plowman was selected by the Assembly to fill that seat starting in November, again with little consultation with local leaders.
Although the 20th Circuit is not expected to have another vacancy until 2022 at the earliest, Sinclair is expected to be back at the head of the line for consideration of a judgeship in 2020. Two of Loudoun’s District Court judges will step down this year. James Frank Buttery announced he will retire Feb. 1 and Dean S. Worcester plans to retire March 1.
Sinclair was the law partner of new Loudoun Commonwealth’s Attorney Buta Biberaj.