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House panel trims judge plan

The House of Delegates has agreed to cut 14 bench seats from a plan for re-allocating trial court judgeships in Virginia.

As two bills to shuffle bench positions made their way through the Assembly, the House version came in for budget cutting in the House Appropriations Committee.

The Senate measure still provides for 402 authorized judgeships. The House version now provides for only 388.

Both measures passed their respective houses as the Assembly reached the midpoint of the session. Differences likely will be worked out in the budget process at the end of the session.

The trimmed down House version also shifts allocations of judges, much to the consternation of some legislators fighting to get judges on the bench in busy courts.

The Appropriations subcommittee used a higher threshold of need to determine which judgeships should be included in the substitute bill, said panel chairman Del. John M. O’Bannon III, R-Henrico County.

Another dispute involves the process itself – should the state code reflect the appropriate number of judgeships, regardless of whether all are funded, or should the official list of judgeships should be pared as needed for budget reasons?

Cutting the judge list to meet money concerns is a “pretty significant departure from what’s been done as long as anyone can remember,” said Del. David B. Albo, R-Springfield, chair of the House Courts Committee.

The substitute includes language to address concerns about the caseload study, O’Bannon said. The bill directs the state Supreme Court to recommend how to give added weight for pro se litigants and cases requiring interpreters as well as how to assess the impact of travel time and the use of prosecutors for misdemeanor cases in district courts.

This post was updated on Feb. 13 to add information about the substitute bill from O’Bannon.

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