RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Judge Adrianne Bennett, the former chairwoman of Virginia’s Parole Board, was suspended from the bench last year amid an intensifying scandal over the board’s handling of certain cases.

Bennett left the board to become a Virginia Beach Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court judge, but she was indefinitely suspended by a panel tasked with investigating claims of judicial misconduct nearly a year to the day after she was sworn in.

Records unsealed Thursday by the Supreme Court of Virginia show that Bennett sought to have her suspension lifted, challenging the Judicial Inquiry and Review Commission’s authority to issue the order.

Virginia’s Supreme Court did not agree, denying Bennett’s request the day after she filed her petition. But the court decided to keep records in the case under seal until the publisher of the Richmond-Times Dispatch filed a petition on behalf of the newspaper seeking to have them made public.

With a 4-2 decision on Thursday, the high court unsealed some of the records after but opted against making several key filings in the case open to the public, including records indicating the reasoning behind Bennett’s suspension from the bench.

“Nearly every state, including Virginia, protects the confidentiality of disciplinary proceedings against judges, for a variety of sound reasons,” the majority wrote, citing reasons such as protecting accusers from retaliation and judges from unwarranted complaints.

The court was divided on whether to unseal the records of the JIRC case. Justices D. Arthur Kelsey and Teresa M. Chafin were the dissenting voices in the decision.

“Seeking to open up this proceeding to the public, the newspaper publisher has not only asked us to unseal our ‘sealing order’ but has also asked us to provide constitutionally-mandated particularized findings for sealing’ if the existing sealing order does not include them,” Justice Kelsey wrote. “The sealing order, as the newspaper publisher has today discovered, did not provide any such findings.”

“Now that the matter is before the Court, we should own up to our mistake and provide statutory and constitutionally satisfactory reasons — if any exist — that justify our continued sealing of the JIRC documents. We have not done so, however, because there are none.”

Bennett was at the center of the scandal that engulfed the parole board and became a major talking point for Republicans before the party swept the state elections last November.

In 2020, the state’s watchdog agency turned over unredacted copies of a report that found that the board violated the law and its own procedures during the parole process of Vincent Martin, a man convicted of killing a Richmond police officer in 1979.

The Office of the State Inspector General (OSIG) began an investigation into allegations that Bennett and the board’s chairwoman at the time, Tonya Chapman, “violated Commonwealth of Virginia (COV) statutes and VPB policies and procedures regarding the parole of a specific DOC offender (VLM).”

The state investigator who led the 2020 investigation into the board was fired after filing a whistleblower lawsuit. That former state employee filed a wrongful termination lawsuit alleging defamation by senior state officials.

Bennett left the board before being elected to be a judge in March 2020 and taking her oath on April 16, 2020. She was suspended by JIRC on April 13, 2021, the unsealed records show, but is listed as a Virginia Beach Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court presiding judge on the court’s website.

The JIRC investigation is complete and Bennett’s attorney in the case, Lee Floyd, said she still serves as a judge in a statement praising the court’s ruling.

“Today’s decision from the Virginia Supreme Court struck the careful balance between the fundamental notion of public access to the courts and the statutory safeguards that protect judges from unwarranted complaints,” Floyd said in a statement. “Judge Bennett continues to serve honorably on the bench.”