A bipartisan effort of law enforcement officials, lawyers, and local leaders are working to salvage a serious threat to justice and our legal system in Floyd County and other jurisdictions in the New River Valley.
They are trying to keep Circuit Judge Marc Long on the bench, where he has made a tremendous difference in dealing with the drug abuse epidemic that has a stranglehold on our county and other jurisdictions.
A new General Assembly delegate, who mostly represents Montgomery County, is trying to replace Judge Long. His actions appear strongly partisan. Del. Chris Hurst is a Democrat. Judge Long was appointed when Republicans controlled the General Assembly.
A strong letter to the media and governing jurisdictions brought Floyd County’s Republican Commonwealth’s Attorney Eric Branscom, GOP defense attorney James Turk Jr. and Democratic defense counsel Jonathan Rogers together to support Judge Long and decry the partisanship that threatens the jurist.
We have appeared in front of Judge Marc Long hundreds of times and before over a hundred other judges. We know Judge Long to be one of the finest jurists before whom we have practiced. We know Judge Long to be learned, hard-working, compassionate, dedicated and yes, tough, and tough on those lawyers who appear before him unprepared, habitually late, and who routinely misrepresent law and facts to him. We appreciate that toughness.
Beyond his superior performance as a Judge over the last sixteen (16) years Judge Long has created Drug Courts in Pulaski, Floyd and Montgomery Counties. Through the Drug Courts his efforts and devotion to providing a path forward for those who through their addiction and misfortune have come before him for violations of the law, Judge Long has guided these participants to their redemption and allowed them to once again participate positively in our communities and within their families.
In large part because of his establishment of a family drug treatment program when he served the Commonwealth as a Juvenile and Domestic Relations District judge and the four (4) drug courts, he also, established, in 2016 Judge Long was one of the few circuit court judges that have ever been named as one of Virginia’s “Leaders in the Law” by Virginia Law Weekly.
A few words about the “Performance Evaluations” upon which Del. Chris Hurst, D-Montgomery, relies. First and foremost, these evaluations were never intended to be used to justify the removal of a judge. They were intended as a type of feedback to help judges improve their performance in court. These evaluations are badly flawed when used for the wrong purpose. Judge Long received good or excellent evaluations in 21 of the 24 categories in the performance evaluations. All three of us have rated Judge Long as excellent in all categories after hundreds of appearances in front of him but our evaluations are counterbalanced by attorneys who have appeared in front of him as few as three times. As a result, these anonymous evaluations do not reflect an accurate account of a judge’s performance and often serve as no more than a gripe session for those attorneys who have not fared well before a judge, often because of their own shortcomings.
To the three of us, it is disturbing that Del. Hurst, who with a very short time living in the New River Valley and even shorter time in the service of our Commonwealth, has decided to be the architect of the end of a distinguished jurist’s career, one who has served the Commonwealth for decades in several capacities and who is a lifelong resident of the New River Valley. Certainly, we would hope, he would have consulted with those who know the judge best — the clerks, lawyers and the law enforcement officers who are in his court on a regular basis.
Unfortunately, this is not the case, as there was no discussion with the local bar associations, the sheriff’s offices or with the court clerks. Del. Hurst made this determination entirely on his own for his own political reasons. Moreover, when the news of this blatantly political decision became known to the public, Del. Hurst refused to respond to a myriad of letters and phone calls from concerned citizens, and including the Floyd County Board of Supervisors, the Pulaski County Administrators and Supervisors, the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department, the Floyd County Sheriff’s Department, the Floyd County Bar Association, the Floyd County Circuit Court Clerk’s Office, and the Floyd County Commonwealth’s Attorney, directing his staff to simply tell those requesting to discuss the reappointment of Judge Long with him that Del. Hurst is “too busy” or that he does not represent them and, in particular, Floyd County.
I’ve covered Judge Long’s activities on the court bench here in Floyd County for The Floyd Press and have been a newspaperman who has dealt with judges on many levels over the past half-century and can say — without doubt — that he has been a fair and honest judge who has dealt fairly — and firmly — with those who have broken the laws of the Commonwealth and – in particular — those who need help when it comes to fighting substance abuse.
His sentences can be harsh for those who manufacture drugs like crystal meth and sell the highly-addictive substance to others, along with heroin and cocaine but first-time offenders charged with possession can find help through the drug court.
Many Floyd Countians, assigned to drug court by Judge Long, are working hard to turn their life around and deal with the threats of substance abuse. For the record, I served with him as members of the Alcoholism Safety Action program advisory board and found him an honest and hard-working advocate for those trying to deal with those trying to get help and hold the beast of substance abuse at bay.
I am a recovering alcoholic who, after 30+ years of hard-drinking, has been sober for 25 years, eight months and 14 days as of this Thursday: Feb. 20, 2020. As a substance abuser, I recognize those who truly try to help. Judge Long is such a man.
Perhaps Del. Hurst should think about that. His drinking led to getting pulled over on the U.S. 460 bypass in Christiansburg with a blood alcohol level that showed him driving under the influence. The officer, recognizing that our elected representative in the General Assembly is not subject to the laws that affect most of the rest of us, allowed him to proceed with his young, female passenger, who had been drinking but was just under the legal limit for adults, behind the wheel.
Several questions about the behavior of Hurst and his companion remain. He apologized on a social media post but, by drinking to excess and then climbing behind the wheel of a car, raises questions about his concerted attempts to rid our county and other jurisdictions of a judge with a proven record of helping those with substance abuse issues.
The open letter from prosecutor Branscom and defense attorneys Rogers and Turk, concludes”
More than 50 prominent and experienced lawyers who have practiced before Judge Long have signed a letter strongly supporting Judge Long’s reappointment.
In closing, the manner in which Judge Long’s dedicated and honorable service is being ended at the hands of a single delegate who clearly has little understanding of the significant and excellent performance by Judge Long on the bench is a travesty.
In this case, both the defense and prosecution have rested with a shared conclusion on this important issue.