- The Washington Times - Friday, January 24, 2003

RICHMOND State legislators voted to deny a second term to a judge who had been accused of sexual harassment, ending the judicial career of the first black woman to become a circuit court judge in Virginia.

The fight over whether to reappoint Newport News Judge Verbena Askew divided the General Assembly along racial lines, with one senator comparing the move to oust her to a lynching.

In a party-line vote, the Republican-dominated House Courts of Justice Committee voted 13-7 on Wednesday not to certify Judge Askew as qualified for another eight-year term. Two Democrats joined eight Republicans in a 10-5 vote against Judge Askew in the Senate Courts of Justice Committee later in the day.

The judge had no comment, said her administrative coordinator, Nicholas Evers.

Delegate Robert McDonnell, Virginia Beach Republican and chairman of the House committee, said the harassment claim was credible enough to conclude that the judge acted in an improper manner. He said there also was a "documented pattern" to suggest that Judge Askew sought to undermine Brenda Collins at work after Miss Collins filed the complaint.

The city of Hampton paid $64,000 to settle Miss Collins' complaint. Judge Askew has denied the charges.

"Seven months ago, this House decided that even the speaker of the House … could not continue to serve in a leadership position" under similar circumstances, Mr. McDonnell said, referring to the sexual-harassment scandal that brought down House Speaker S. Vance Wilkins Jr.

Judge Askew's supporters pointed to her record of handing out tough sentences to criminals, but Senate Minority Leader Richard L. Saslaw, Fairfax County Democrat, said that alone was not enough to warrant a second term.

"If we reappoint this judge, we are saying that if you do all right in the courtroom, we don't care what else happens around that courthouse," Mr. Saslaw said.

Judge Askew's critics also cited a survey of Newport News lawyers in which the judge received low marks for efficiency and courtroom demeanor, and some said she was evasive in her responses during a half-day hearing by the courts committees Jan. 17.

One Askew supporter, Delegate Kenneth R. Melvin, Portsmouth Democrat, said the hearing was filled with hearsay, innuendo, rumor and conflicting testimony none of which reached the threshold of burden of proof.

"The combination of these things smells bad," he said, "with the undercurrent of questions about sexual orientation and lesbianism, all of this rolled together."

Earlier Wednesday, a black state senator was warned by the lieutenant governor to tone down her criticism of Republican colleagues.

The campaign against Judge Askew "took on the appearance of a lynch mob," said Sen. L. Louise Lucas, Portsmouth Democrat, adding that the committees' handling of the matter "leads me to believe the Trent Lott disease has crossed over the Potomac."

Mr. Lott, Mississippi Republican, lost his leadership post in the U.S. Senate after he said at a 100th birthday party for retiring Sen. Strom Thurmond, South Carolina Republican, that the nation would have been better off if Mr. Thurmond, then a segregationist had been elected president in 1948.

Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, a fellow Democrat who presides over the Senate, interrupted Miss Lucas and said she was breaching Senate rules that forbid one senator from challenging another's motives.

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