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Court system to delay filling vacancies

The state court system will extend a three-month hiring delay to at least six months in an effort to reduce costs by $3 million by July 2010, and the judicial performance evaluation program appears to be dead, at least for the time being.Those were the key points today at a meeting of the Committee on District Courts.

Virginia Chief Justice Leroy Rountree Hassell Sr., the chairman of the committee, said Supreme Court of Virginia administrative staff is developing financial projections to determine whether a six-month delay will be enough to meet the requirement to reduce the budget.

Any additional delay will be difficult in a system that already is short more than 300 positions, but it is a better alternative than eliminating jobs, Hassell said.

The $508,000 annual appropriation for the JPE program was eliminated from the 2009-10 budget, Hassell said, and “we’re in the process of winding up the commission’s work.”

Sen. Henry L. Marsh III, D-Richmond, a member of the committee and chairman of the Senate Courts of Justice Committee, said members of the House Courts of Justice Committee have “seemed willing to work out the bugs in the system” in an effort to resurrect it, but that is unlikely to happen before the next biennial budget.

The JPE program was one of the more controversial issues in the General Assembly this year because the Supreme Court issued an order that the evaluations of the first five judges to go through the system could not be disseminated beyond the legislature.

Legislators questioned the court’s authority to issue such an order, and the court rescinded it near the end of the session, with the understanding that legislators would keep the evaluations secret. All five judges were reappointed.

By Alan Cooper

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