With decisions still remaining on how many judgeships to fund and fill, the General Assembly nevertheless has agreed to a plan to authorize Virginia trial court judgeships in accordance with needs identified by a recent caseload study.
Both House and Senate agreed on a plan that calls for 429 judgeships in circuit, general district and juvenile and domestic relations courts as the House agreed to drop a committee proposal to trim the recommended number.
The plan that emerged from a House-Senate conference committee is “pretty near a best case scenario,” said Del. Greg Habeeb, R-Salem.
A Senate proponent explained the action does yet not put judges on the bench.
“This is what is authorized by statute. It does not mean it is automatically funded. That will be a budget decision,” Sen. Chap Petersen told Senate colleagues Saturday.
The Assembly-approved judgeship allocation plan is close to the Senate version of the judgeship plan.
“We got what we wanted,” Petersen said.
“Overall, a good bill for Fairfax County and the Commonwealth,” said Del. Scott Surovell in a Facebook post. The bill authorizes a full complement of Fairfax County judges minus a J&DR court position, Surovell said.
Voting against a House version of the conference report were Dels. Scott Garrett, R-Lynchburg, Steve Landes, R-Verona, and Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke. Dels. Joe Morrissey, D-Richmond and Brenda Pogge, R-Norge, also voted against a Senate version of the compromise.
Landes said he voted against the bill because it would eliminate two general district judgeships in the 25th district, which includes busy courts in Staunton, Waynesboro and Augusta County. The report did not seem to to reflect the needs of rural districts with long travel times between courthouses, Landes said.
There were no dissenting votes as the Senate approved the House bill Saturday.
Deciding which judgeships to fund in a delayed budget session will be a “whole separate conversation,” Habeeb said.
“It’s going to be tricky. This is a significant issue,” he said.
Virginia Supreme Court Chief Justice Cynthia D. Kinser renewed her call for filling judicial vacancies as she addressed more than 100 lawyers at a Danville conference Friday.
“We haven’t won that battle yet,” she said, urging lawyers and their business clients to contact legislators.
“They have to hear it from the people back home,” Kinser said.
Kevin Martingayle, president-elect of the Virginia State Bar, joined Kinser in urging Assembly action to fund judgeships.
“It does take money for the engine to run correctly,” he said.
Because the Assembly-approved plan cuts judgeships in some areas, the legislation calls for the Chief Justice to reassign sitting judges to other courts as needed.
The legislation also calls for the Supreme Court to gather information on the workload impact of cases requiring interpreters.