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Assembly funds judgeships

The General Assembly recessed tonight until April 4 after approving a budget that includes money to fill 21 judgeships that the legislature froze in its 2010 session.

The legislature also rejected the proposal of Gov. Robert F. McDonnell that it take $5 million from the reserve fund of the Virginia State Bar and agreed to provide $2.95 million to finance 14 drug courts.

The Senate had proposed spending $4.8 million to fill the judicial vacancies that were frozen in the 2010 session of the General Assembly and taking $2.5 million from the VSB budget. It also would have funded drug courts.
The House starting position was continuing the freeze, leaving the VSB budget intact and cutting the drug court financing.

Gov. Bob McDonnell had proposed taking $5 million from the VSB and restoring $1.7 million to reflect that fewer judges had left the bench than the legislature had projected when it enacted the freeze. The legislature added $3.72 million to that amount.

Del. David B. Albo, the Fairfax Republican who chairs the House Courts of Justice Committee, announced from the House floor that candidates for judicial vacancies would be interviewed on April 5, the day before the veto session.

He told candidates and delegates who have a judicial vacancy in their district that they should contact Mary Kate Felch, the legislative liaison to the court system, so that they can take the steps needed for the candidate to be certified by Senate and House courts committees as qualified for appointment.

Albo added that additional candidates for two seats on the Supreme Court of Virginia also would be interviewed then. The vacancies were created by the retirement of Justice Lawrence L. Koontz Jr. and the death of former Chief Justice Leroy Rountree Hassell Sr.

The House Republican caucus already has backed Virginia Court of Appeals Judge Elizabeth A. McClanahan for one of the seats, but the Senate Democratic caucus has not yet expressed a preference for a candidate. Judicial vacancies historically have been chosen by the caucus of the party in power.

With Republicans in control of the House and Democrats in charge in the Senate, an impasse is possible. Under state law, the governor fills appellate and circuit court vacancies when the legislature cannot agree on a candidate, a circumstance that puts Republicans in the driver’s seat in the selection process.

The seats that would be filled by July 1 at the earliest include two circuit judgeships in the Second Circuit and one each in the Fifth, Sixth, Ninth, 10th, 11th, 14th, 15th, 18th, 24th, 26, 27th and 30th circuits.

General district judgeships would be filled in Second, Sixth, 12th and 20th districts, and juvenile and domestic relations district seats would be filled in the 11th, 15th and 27th districts.

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