Virginia Chapter
National Organization for Women

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April 20, 2022   
There's some good news from Richmond. The judicial system may be a little fairer - especially for women - as the result of two bills championed by Virginia NOW member Lisa Sales, based on her personal experiences as a women's rights advocate and sexual assault survivor.
 
The first bill - HB761, introduced by Sales’ delegate Paul Krizek (44th District, Fairfax County) - deals with a longstanding problem regarding the Judicial Inquiry and Review Commission (JIRC). JIRC is a constitutionally mandated state body that vets allegations against judges accused of misconduct or being unfit for the job. The problem is, JIRC operates in relative secrecy and the public knows little about it. The bill mandates that information be made available to the public about filing a complaint with JIRC in cases of judicial misconduct. This is particularly important in domestic and sexual violence cases, where women too often encounter biased, misogynistic or discriminatory judges. 
 
Case in point: Katie Orndoff, a victim of domestic violence, testified in the felony assault and battery trial of her former boyfriend. During her testimony, the presiding judge - Loudoun County Circuit Court Judge James P. Fisher - interrupted Orndoff to ask if she was intoxicated. While she admitted to smoking marijuana (which is not a crime) earlier in the day, no one else, including prosecutors, detectives and sheriff’s deputies, observed that Orndoff was intoxicated or impaired.
 
Nevertheless and without legal justification, Judge Fisher declared Orndoff in contempt of court and sentenced her to 10 days in jail, the maximum sentence permitted. After being held for two days, Orndoff was released on $1,000 bail. Thanks to Sales and Orndoff's attorney, a complaint about Judge Fisher's actions will soon be before the Judicial Inquiry and Review Commission.
 
The second bill - HB1327, also introduced by Delegate Krizek - provides that a defendant convicted in a civil case may not charge the victim for trial document costs. Sales learned about costs being passed to victims the hard way – when, as a survivor of sexual assault, she received a bill of $8,000 from the perpetrator. Moreover, she was required to respond to the Supreme Court of Virginia within 10 days. Sales, who is not an attorney, wrote a brief arguing that a victim should not have to pay for the perpetrator's documents. She won on that point and then went on to draft HB1327 with Krizek to make certain no other victims would be subject to these costs.  
 
Both bills passed with unanimous, bipartisan support, were signed by the governor, and are effective July 1 - small but important steps to ending the misogyny and discrimination against women in our judicial system.