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Judiciary avoids further cuts

The judicial system appears to have escaped unscathed from the latest round of budget cuts announced today by Gov. Tim Kaine.

Kaine did not mention the court system in his remarks to the legislative money committees, and a quick check of the budget adjustments released at the time of the speech did not disclose any significant changes. The governor is trimming $2.9 billion from the state’s two-year, $78 billion budget.

Money for the waiver of caps on fees for court-appointed attorneys is still there, $4.2 million for 2009 and $6.2 million for 2010

Of course judicial department employees, with the possible exception of some judges, got the same lump of coal delivered to all state employees – no pay raises before July 2010.

Judges are the only state employees protected by the state constitution from the elimination of a pay increase approved earlier this year by the General Assembly, but Chief Justice Leroy Rountree Hassell Sr. has said he will forgo his raise and left it up to other state judges as to whether they will do likewise.

A court spokeswoman said many state judges haven’t decided what to do yet. They have the option of taking the raise, forgoing it or taking it and paying it back, which enhances their retirement package if they plan to leave in the next couple of years.

Hassell had agreed earlier to a $2 million reduction in the 2009 budget and to an additional $3 million for 2010. Those reductions included the elimination of three full-time equivalent positions, fewer judicial conferences and less employee training, and the elimination of annual and sick leave balance payments to retiring and resigning district judges.

Moreover, the court system isn’t asking for the creation of 16 judgeships that caseload statistics indicate have been needed for at least three years. Nor is it pushing to create the 300-plus clerical positions that studies have shown are needed in district courts.

By Alan Cooper

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