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Federal appeals judge urges support for judiciary

The message was familiar, but recent events have provided new ammunition for 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Steven Agee as he encourages lawyers to stand up for the third branch of government.

Agee said he perceives a “disconnect” between the importance of the judiciary and legislative budget decisions leaving judgeships unfilled.

“It is a real and tangible threat to the independence of the judiciary because the judiciary simply cannot function when there are no judges,” Agee told the Roanoke Bar Association’s Law Day lunch gathering Monday.

Agee specifically noted that the Supreme Court of Virginia is down to just five out of seven members for the foreseeable future. “I can tell you from my time on that court . . . that the Supreme Court cannot long function in the mode that it now finds itself,” Agee said. As a justice, he said, “you simply can’t take on more cases.”

“This impacts every individual citizen who has a case before the court or hopes to get one. It will be delayed,” Agee said.

Agee decried the budget-driven vacancies in circuit and district court judgeships. “That is much more than simply inattention. It is a denial of the basic right to seek justice in our courts under our Constitution that all of our citizens deserve.”

Agee sounded a similar warning in 2009, telling the Richmond Bar Association it’s up to lawyers to carry the message to citizens and legislators about the importance of the judiciary.

By Peter Vieth

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