After months of uncertainty, Alexandria Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court Judge Nolan B. Dawkins has withdrawn his name from nomination to fill a vacancy on the city’s Circuit Court bench.
Dawkins’ withdrawal became public earlier this week when Virginia Governor Mark R. Warner announced the appointment of defense attorney Lisa Bondareff Kemler to the Circuit Court bench. Kemler is a native of Alexandria and a graduate of T. C. Williams High School. While most of her work has been as a defense attorney, she has served as a substitute judge within the 18th Judicial Circuit since 1991. She attended the University of Virginia and George Mason University’s School of Law.
“Lisa Kemler is a talented trial lawyer and widely respected in the Alexandria legal community,” Warner said. “I know that she will be an excellent addition to the Alexandria Circuit Court and I am pleased to appoint her to the bench.”
Warner had been prepared to appoint Dawkins, who was the choice of the Alexandria Bar Association and the city’s state legislative delegation. However, Republican members of the General Assembly vetted and chose their own candidate for the job, local attorney Tim Battle.
While the Courts of Justice committees held hearings on the Alexandria appointment, the committee failed to recommend a candidate for the position. The General Assembly adjourned without making the appointment, leaving it in the hands of the governor. However, judicial appointments made by the governor must be ratified by the General Assembly.
“I made the decision to withdraw my name last week when it became clear to me that I was not going to be confirmed by the General Assembly in January,” Dawkins said. “When I realized that this was not just a risk but a certainty, I decided to continue in the job that I have now — a job that I enjoy.”
Delegate Brian Moran (D-46) said, “The Republicans have highjacked the judicial appointment process and I am extremely disappointed about that. I do believe that Lisa Kemler will make an excellent judge and I am pleased for her. However, her appointment is by no means certain either. This is not the way these matters are supposed to be handled.”
DAWKINS, TOO, expressed frustration with the process. “It is extremely frustrating to realize that this had nothing to do with my qualifications,” he said. “It had nothing to do with anything over which I had any control.
“I would like to express my gratitude to the hundreds of people throughout this community who have supported me through this process. That has been very important to me.
“In a sense, I am relieved that this won’t be hanging over my head for the next several months. I’m not going to say that I would never participate in this process again; circumstances might change in the future. For now, though, I will get on with things as they are,” he said.
There is still a vacancy on the city’s juvenile and domestic relations bench, created by the retirement of Judge Stephen Rideout, which will occur in August. Because the legislature did not act on that appointment, chief Circuit Court judge Donald Haddock will decide.
“He can do one of four things,” Moran said. “He can appoint the Bar Association’s candidate; he can appoint the legislative delegation’s candidate; he can appoint the Republican candidate or he can leave the position vacant. It’s really up to him.”