RICHMOND – The Richmond, Va., Circuit Court appointed openly gay prosecutor Tracy Thorne-Begland to an interim judgeship Thursday, a month after the state’s House of Delegates voted to reject his candidacy.
The decision to appoint Thorne-Begland to the temporary position comes after five prominent Richmond lawyers expressed their support for his candidacy in an open letter to the Circuit Court.
The interim circuit court judgeship was left open when legislators rejected Thorne-Begland’s initial nomination to fill the vacancy following intense pressure from religious conservatives.
The General Assembly will have to confirm Thorne-Begland in January in order for him to earn permanent appointment.
“I applaud the circuit court judges for recognizing Mr. Thorne-Begland’s skill, qualifications and competency and putting aside bigotry, prejudice and false excuses,” Sen. Donald McEachin (D-Henrico) said in a statement. “I wish Mr. Thorne-Begland the best as he ascends to the bench and I know that Richmonders will be fortunate to have him in the General District Court.”
On Wednesday, the Richmond Times-Dispatch obtained a May 28 memo written to the Virginia Republican Caucus by Del. Rick Morris (R-Isle of Wight), who had voted against Thorne-Begland two weeks earlier. In the memo, Morris explained his decision to change his mind and support Thorne-Begland’s appointment.
During the debate over his nomination, Republican lawmakers and the right-wing Family Foundation of Virginia had accused Thorne-Begland of violating military code — a reference to his 1992 television appearance in which he came out as gay and opposed the military’s ban on service by gays and lesbians. Thorne-Begland was serving in the Navy at the time.
According to Del. David Albo, one of the few Republicans to vote in favor of Thorne-Begland’s appointment, the accusations of military insubordination persuaded many Republicans to either vote against his appointment or abstain.
But when Morris examined Thorne-Begland’s record more carefully, he said he did not believe Thorne-Begland disobeyed military rules.
“Speaking out against an administrative policy is not a violation of Navy regulations,” Morris wrote. He added, “For one to make the argument that Mr. Thorne-Begland violated the ‘political activities’ policy would be a very long stretch.”
Del. Jennifer McClellan, who nominated Thorne-Begland for the judgeship, issued a statement after Thursday’s decision:
“Today, the Richmond Circuit Court confirmed what the Richmond delegation of the General Assembly knew all along: Tracy Thorne-Begland is a highly respected, qualified individual and best candidate to fill the vacancy on the Richmond General District Court. I am pleased by the Circuit Court judges’ decision to ignore the bigotry and false allegations thrown at Mr. Thorne-Begland last month and give him the opportunity to serve the City of Richmond in a new capacity.”Tags: don't ask don't tell, Donald McEachin, Family Foundation of Virginia, Jennifer McClellan, LGBT, Rick Morris, Tracy Thorne-Begland, virginia