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Kinser offers ‘State of Judiciary’ address

NORFOLK — Virginia Supreme Court Chief Justice Cynthia D. Kinser shone a light on court staff in her 2012 State of the Judiciary address delivered May 15 in Norfolk.

The chief justice opened Virginia’s annual Judicial Conference with a summation of achievements and milestones during the past year.

Virginia’s 4,500 judicial branch employees handle over 4 million court proceedings annually, Kinser said. She celebrated funding for 34 judicial vacancies this year, as well as money for 61 new district court clerk jobs and 10 new foreign language interpreters.

The additional positions will bring staffing levels in all district courts to 80 percent of model staffing guidelines. But pay still lags, Kinser said, when comparing the average district court employee salary to the average salary of other state employees.

She lauded funding of the weighted case load study and said the court has contracted with the National Center of State Courts to begin gathering information from Virginia courts, with a deadline of Nov. 15, 2013, to deliver a report to the General Assembly.

Under a 2011 grant from the State Justice Institute, the court has set up a mentoring program for new judges, and has trained 52 experienced judges to team up with new judges, one-on-one, for each new judge’s first year of service on the bench.

In-house training programs are in place at multiple levels of the judiciary branch, with 18 court employees having participated in a three-day “faculty development program” to give them the skills to design and deliver training. Kinser also reported that dissemination of “best practices” through a number of juvenile and domestic relations courts has led to a 32 percent statewide decrease in the number of children placed in foster care during the past six years.

Kinser’s expressions of gratitude to court personnel echoed throughout the conference, as numerous presenters thanked staff from the Office of the Executive Secretary for their hard work, not only to support the annual conference, but year-round. The OES celebrates its 60th anniversary this year, Kinser said.
–Deborah Elkins

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