by Corrine Murdock
Delegate Michael Mullin (D-Newport News) is accused of violating the separation of powers by serving as an attorney in cases with justices he appoints. The lawsuit asks the court to “disqualify any judge(s) subject to review or reappointment” by Mullin, and to remove Mullin from prosecution of the case.
The suit contends that Mullin’s positions as both a Delegate in the House and an assistant attorney violates Articles III and IV of the Constitution of Virginia.
Article IV of the Constitution of the Virginia, section four, states that individuals who hold a salaried office under the Commonwealth – including attorneys for the Commonwealth – can’t be a member of either house of the General Assembly.
Mullin’s term in the House expires in 2022. The suit explains that Mullin serves currently on the General Assembly’s Courts of Justice Committee. This committee appoints judges throughout the Commonwealth. As the lawsuit points out, one member’s vote is impactful considering the committee has eighteen members.
“The role of a Commonwealth, both elected and assistant, is executive. It is to prosecute violations of the laws of the Commonwealth. The role of the General Assembly is Legislative, to make and modify the laws of the Commonwealth,” the lawsuit reads. “The role of the Courts of Justice Committee is to oversee and appoint the Commonwealth’s judiciary. Del. Mullin exists in all three concurrent roles. The Defendant is concerned that this creates a precarious situation for his Due Process rights.”
In an interview with The Virginia Star, State Senator Joe Morrissey (D-Richmond) explained that the conflicts of these roles may result in unfair trials.
“In Virginia the legislators – including me and everybody else – have the power to appoint every six years in general courts and eight years in district courts. The only people who can really appoint the judge are the legislators – not the governor, not God. The motion was very well made: that every time Mullin is prosecuting the case, the judge is mindful that that’s the guy that reappoints him to his job. It creates the appearance of a conflict, and therefore there is one. That’s why the Constitution says you can’t be an attorney of the Commonwealth and serve in the general assembly at the same time.”
Morrissey added that he wasn’t sure how this was allowed to continue.
“I don’t know how it got this far – it was an attorney general’s opinion years ago that a person could accept a temporary appointment for no more than 90 days. But this has just gone on and on.” [CHECK]
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Corinne Murdock is a reporter at The Virginia Star and the Star News Network. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Delegate Mullin” by Virginia General Assembly. Background Photo “Virginia House” by Germana CC CC BY 2.0.