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Hiring freeze likely for courts

“In the very near future, we will have a hiring freeze,” Chief Justice Leroy Rountree Hassell Sr. told the Committee on District Courts today. He said the court system is reviewing all discretionary spending and already has implemented a delayed hiring policy.

Hassell added that the freeze may thaw a little for vacancies in general district court clerks’ offices, where the system is 300 positions short of the recommended staffing levels.

“We took a hard look at drug courts,” Hassell said, but concluded that they have saved the state more than $5 million in recent years because they are less expensive than locking up drug offenders.

The comments came a day after Gov. Timothy M. Kaine announced measures to cope with a $2.5 billion shortfall in the state’s two-year $78 billion budget.

Hassell did not mention that the Office of the Executive Secretary has eliminated the three positions in the judicial programs department. The most visible members of the department were Thomas M. Diggs, who provided staff support for the Commission on Virginia Courts in the 21st Century and the chief justice’s mental health commission, and Karl Doss, who analyzed the cost of court-appointed counsel for indigent defendants and worked on a reorganization of the magistrate system.

Executive Secretary Karl R. Hade said eliminating the department was painful and meant that analysis of judicial programs will be delayed or shifted to other departments.

By Alan Cooper

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