Kelsey is pressed for top court

Published 10:36 pm Monday, January 3, 2011

A Suffolk native and former Suffolk Circuit Court judge is among 10 people being considered for a vacant seat on the Virginia Supreme Court.

The Hon. D. Arthur Kelsey is leading in endorsements from statewide bar associations, according to Virginia Lawyers Weekly. He currently is a judge on the Virginia Court of Appeals.

Before being nominated to the appeals court, Kelsey served in Suffolk Circuit Court for several years. Delegate S. Chris Jones nominated him to the Circuit Court seat.

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“I was very impressed with his legal experience and his intellect, and the fact that he was not seeking the position,” Jones said Monday.

Kelsey’s name was forwarded with nine others from the Virginia State Bar to the General Assembly Monday. The General Assembly chooses judges in Virginia, unless legislators fail to come to an agreement by the time their session is over. In that case, the governor chooses.

The other nominees include Virginia Court of Appeals judges, as well as Circuit Court judges, a handful of attorneys and a former state solicitor general. An appointment is needed to fill out a seat vacated by a retirement.

Kelsey’s appointment to the Circuit Court was controversial at the time, Jones said, because some did not think he had enough experience or notoriety in the community.

However, Jones said, Kelsey proved himself on the bench quickly.

“He’s done a very good job on the bench and as a member of the Court of Appeals, and certainly would be a wonderful addition to the Supreme Court if he were selected,” Jones said.

Kelsey was selected by then-Gov. Mark Warner in 2002 to fill an appeals court seat vacated by retirement.

Local attorneys contacted Monday described their experiences with Kelsey as extremely positive.

“Judge Kelsey is an extremely intelligent man and very, very highly qualified judge,” Commonwealth’s Attorney C. Phillips Ferguson said. “I’m not in a position to speak to the other candidates, but I do know that Judge Kelsey is a very highly qualified judge.”

Ferguson said one of Kelsey’s strengths is sound judicial reasoning.

“You may agree or disagree with it, but whatever his decision is, he’s going to back it up with good judicial reasoning,” Ferguson said.

Grier Ferguson, an attorney with Ferguson, Rawls and Raines, P.C., also spoke highly of Kelsey.

“All my experiences with Judge Kelsey were extremely positive,” Grier Ferguson said. “He was extremely astute on the law and was able to apply the law very well to the facts.”

Grier Ferguson described Kelsey as consistently fair and courteous.

“He asks the right questions and gives you a chance to respond to those questions,” he said.

The Virginia Bar Association was among the statewide groups that recommended Kelsey, among others, for the position.

Guy Tower, executive director of the Virginia Bar Association, said the group makes its recommendations based on standard criteria.

“We believe very strongly that a strong, independent judiciary is a linchpin of our democratic society,” he said. “We feel like it’s kind of our responsibility, really.”