- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 20, 2015

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - The daughter of a former state senator whose resignation sparked a federal investigation was appointed Tuesday to serve as a state judge.

The General Assembly approved the appointment of Martha Ketron as a juvenile and domestic-relations judge in southwest Virginia over the objection of most Democrats.

Ketron is the daughter of former state Sen. Phil Puckett, a Democrat who abruptly resigned in June citing a desire to see his daughter appointed to the bench. Puckett’s resignation flipped control of the state Senate to the Republicans and thwarted efforts to expand Medicaid in Virginia, a key Democratic priority.

His resignation raised the ire of many in his party, including Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe. That displeasure was on display Tuesday when most Democrats abstained from voting to approve Ketron’s appointment. Lawmakers traditionally voice opposition to judicial appointments by abstaining from votes, rather than voting no.

Democratic Senate Minority Leader Richard L. Saslaw said Democrats objected to Ketron’s appointment because of “the method under which she became a judge,” referring to her father’s resignation.

But Republicans said that Ketron was qualified. Her appointment to the bench was blocked by Republicans last year, when Puckett was still in office, because of a policy of not appointing immediate family members to judgeships.

Puckett’s decision to resign led to potential job offers from powerful officials in both parties prior to quitting, which in turn led to a federal grand jury investigation. A federal prosecutor indicated in December that the case was closed and no criminal charges would be filed.

Puckett was in line for a potential high-level job at the GOP-controlled tobacco commission at the time of his resignation, though he later withdrew his name from consideration. Internal commission emails show that commission chairman, Republican Del. Terry Kilgore, was behind the potential job offer and that commission staff were concerned about the timing of the offer.

After his resignation, Puckett said he was resigning in part so that his daughter could be approved as a state judge.

High-level Democrats scrambled to try and prevent Puckett from resigning.

McAuliffe’s chief of staff, Paul Reagan, floated potential job offers as heads of state agencies for Puckett’s daughter. Reagan apologized for his actions after they were made public months later.

And U.S. Sen. Mark Warner also said he “brainstormed” potential job opportunities - including a federal judgeship - for Puckett’s daughter in a conversation with Puckett’s son. Warner said he never made any job offers and did nothing wrong.

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