General Assembly ousts Jamison, welcomes McClenney

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 1/22/2015, midnight
Birdie Hairston Jamison has just a bit more than 10 months to preside over the Richmond Traffic Court.
Judge Jamison (left) Ms. McClenny (right)

Birdie Hairston Jamison has just a bit more than 10 months to preside over the Richmond Traffic Court.

On Dec.1, when her current term ends, she will have to take off her robe, pack up her office and return to being an ordinary citizen after 24 years on the bench of the Richmond General District Court.

Despite a stream of letters and petitions backing her, the General Assembly erased her name from the list of sitting judges to continue in office, meaning the 57-year-old jurist did not get a new six-year term.

Instead, with quick votes and no debate, the House and Senate elected her replacement — Jacqueline S. McClenney, a 43-year-old veteran lawyer and current chairwoman of Venture Richmond, the public-private Downtown booster group. “I’m humbled,” said Ms. McClenney, who has served as a substitute judge.

Judge Jamison was one of five sitting judges — three women and two men — the legislature unceremoniously removed Tuesday.

Others who failed to win reelection are Karen J. Burrell, the chief judge in Norfolk Circuit Court, and Pamela E. Hutchens, a General District Court judge in Virginia Beach. Both of their terms end April 1.

The two men are Judge David L. Williams, chief judge of the Chesapeake General District Court, and Alfred O. Masters Jr., a General District Court judge in Newport News, who is near the mandatory retirement age of 70.

The five “did not have sufficient support from their delegation,” said Republican Delegate Manoli Loupassi, who chaired the joint House-Senate panel that certified the judges who were elected.

Judge Jamison, who joined the bench in 1991 and is longest serving traffic judge in Virginia, was perhaps the most prominent. Certainly she was a familiar face to untold tens of thousands of drivers, police officers and others who had appeared before her over the years.

The Free Press first reported in December that Judge Jamison faced an uphill battle to secure re-election.

Democrats in the House and Senate indicated Judge Jamison would be out if she did not win over Republicans, who command majorities in both house.

“We didn’t have the votes to save her,” said Delegate Jennifer L. McClellan, vice chair of the House Democratic Caucus. She said she is pleased Judge Jamison’s seat will be filled by another African-American woman. “I think that’s important,” Delegate McClellan said.

She apparently was involved in finding Judge Jamison’s replacement as Delegate McClellan joined Delegate Loupassi in introducing Ms. McClenney to the joint panel on Monday, which included her name on the list of judges that both houses approved the next day.

Judge Jamison stoutly defended her record when she appeared before the joint panel in mid-December. She noted that she had never been subject to an official complaint and repeatedly had been found qualified by judges who had reviewed her work in court.

Two police officers from Virginia Commonwealth University who have been regulars in her court were among the array of people who wrote glowing reviews of her work as a judge and urged her retention.