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Bill focused on district court appeals

The House Courts committee has killed a bill designed to keep evidence in district court civil cases from the eyes of circuit judges hearing the cases on appeal.

House Bill 284 took aim at circuit judges inclined to prejudge a district court case before hearing the evidence in new proceedings. When a lower court decision was appealed, the bill would have required the district court clerk to send up only the pleadings, holding on to all other “documents, exhibits, or papers” in the file.

The Supreme Court said the bill would have created extra work for understaffed district court clerks’ offices, according to a legislative impact report. The Courts committee tabled the bill Friday on a voice vote.

The bill, sponsored by Del. Sal Iaquinto, R-Virginia Beach, addressed an issue raised in a 2008 Court of Appeals case. A circuit judge in a custody appeal read the transcript of the lower court proceedings and announced he would rule the same way unless he heard new evidence.

The Court of Appeals, in Alexander v. Flowers, held that judge abdicated his duty to independently weigh the evidence and come to his own conclusions.

By Peter Vieth

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