With the General Assembly session starting in a month, the leaders of several state bar groups are seeking war stories about how the judicial hiring freeze is affecting the administration of justice in the commonwealth.
A quick recap: Last year, for budgetary reasons, the legislature decided to stop filling open judgeships for two years. According to the Virginia State Bar, 19 judgeships are currently vacant due to the freeze. The state budget anticipates that the number will rise to 32 by the end of the budget period in 2012, due to retirements.
When he took over the VSB presidency last June, Irv Blank promised he would make the judicial freeze an issue. With an e-mail sent to all bar members last week, Blank stirred the pot and made good on his promise. Blank said that due to the freeze, “Signs of crisis are emerging in pockets across the state.”
But apparently no one is squawking. He said, “I have been told by members of the General Assembly that they have not been hearing from constituents on this issue.”
Blank wants to change that. “We need your stories of the effects of the freeze on your clients — individual and corporate — as well as on the senior and substitute judges who are taking up the slack where full-time judges are not available. I encourage you to submit those stories to me and to contact your legislators with your concerns,” Blank said.
He asked that any observations be sent to email@example.com or to Irving M. Blank, Virginia State Bar, 707 East Main Street, Suite 1500, Richmond, VA 23219.
Blank’s request comes on the heels of a similar e-mail missive from Virginia Trial Lawyers Association Executive Director Jack Harris.
Harris noted that the VTLA wants to focus first on those circuits and districts where the freeze is being felt most acutely and to do that the group needs more than statistics from the Supreme Court’s executive secretary. He asked that members “tell us directly what problems this freeze is causing you in terms of delays in getting trials scheduled, having motions heard, etc.”
VBA President Steve Busch and VBA Executive Director Guy Tower recently advised members of that association that the VBA had formed a special committee on the issue, with representatives from all VBA sections. But like Blank and Harris, they want the local scoop.
“The Supreme Court’s statistical information demonstrates the overall scope of the problem, but we also want to share more real world stories about how the freeze is being felt most acutely by you—the practicing lawyers of Virginia” they wrote.
They acknowledged that continuing budget concerns probably will prevent a restoration of all the scheduled positions. But they expressed hope that information from lawyers might contribute to a working on solutions for particularly hard-hit jurisdictions.
“Thus, we ask that you supply us with stories of justice delayed or endangered in particular Circuits and Districts,” the two leaders said. They asked that information be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Time to speak up.