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House, Senate have different judicial defrosting plans

House budget planners appear willing to turn up the heat a bit more than their Senate counterparts when it comes to unfreezing Virginia trial court judgeships.

A House Appropriations subcommittee recommends filling 33 judgeships that would otherwise be left unfilled. The House plan would fill approximately two-thirds of the now-frozen judgeships, according to the panel’s report.

A subcommittee of the Senate Finance committee offers a plan to unfreeze only 10 judicial vacancies. “Our recommendations are the bare minimum required,” reads the Senate subcommittee report.

Both legislative proposals appear more generous than Gov. Bob McDonnell’s budget plan, which called for unfreezing five judgeships.

The Senate recommendation favors beefing up the staff in the district courts, offering $12.9 million over two years to add 136 new positions in the clerks’ offices. The House would spend just $3.2 million over the biennium for 46 additional staff positions.

Both the House and Senate support a $240,000 study of judicial caseloads and how the work might be more evenly distributed.

Senate documents posted on Sunday offer specifics on which 10 judgeships would get funding. The plan provides for one circuit judgeship each in the 9th, 10th, 17th, and 22nd circuits, one general district judgeship each in the 6th, 11th, and 31st districts, and one juvenile and domestic relations judgeship each in the 9th, 11th, and 28th districts.

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By Peter Vieth

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