Vacant Suffolk judgeship puts spotlight on black residents to sit on the bench

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 21, 2002

With a vacant judgeship in Suffolk Circuit Court, there’s a push to fill the position with a black city resident.

It’s long overdue for Suffolk, which is 55 percent white, and 45 percent black, says Suffolk NAACP president Charles Christian. Nothing is official, but at least two local attorney’s names have been put in the limelight:

Assistant city attorney Helivi L. Holland, president of the Suffolk Bar Association, and Attorney Johnnie E. Mizelle, former mayor of the city. School Board attorney Wendell Waller is also considered a well-qualified candidate, said Christian.

Email newsletter signup

&uot;This is the right thing to do,&uot; said Christian, in advocating for placement of a black resident on the bench. &uot;We’re not saying just put anyone up there. We have qualified people. We want them to be selected on their merit. &uot;

Judge Alfreda Talton-Harris, who is black and a resident of Franklin, sits on the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court bench. Christian says the NAACP wants to see black representation at the Circuit Court level, and from within Suffolk.

&uot;Suffolk is the only city that doesn’t have a local black resident on the bench,&uot; Christian stated. &uot;It is an atrocity that we don’t have one. It’s like going into the well and coming out without any water.&uot;

It’s unclear considering the state’s budget crisis whether Gov. Mark Warner will immediate fill the slot, or leave it to the General Assembly when it convenes in January. Meanwhile, any decision made by Warner could be overridden by the General Assembly.

Del. S. Chris Jones, a Republican representing Suffolk and parts of Chesapeake, appointed D. Arthur Kelsey to the now vacant seat last year, and will also be the decision-maker this time around. The governor has appointed Kelsey to the Virginia Court of Appeals.

Jones was in Richmond this past week; however, he did return a call to schedule an interview with the News-Herald. On Saturday, Jones could not be reached for comment.

Republican leaders have been said to be advocating the placement of Sen. Frederick M. Quayle, of Chesapeake, to the seat. Former Assistant Suffolk Commonwealth’s Attorney Nancy Parr, of Chesapeake, is also considered a prime contender.