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Va. Beach also wants more say on study

Lawyers and legislators in Northern Virginia aren’t happy at the lack of representation for their region on a Virginia Supreme Court committee appointed to oversee recommendations on court realignments, as reported last week. (See “NoVa wants more say on court study panel,” VLW,  June 25).

It turns out they are not alone. Virginia Beach leaders note the state’s most populous locality has no appointee on the panel, and several lawyers commented on a general lack of representation from urban areas.

The 18-member advisory committee was named by Chief Justice Cynthia D. Kinser to assist the court in making recommendations to the General Assembly on the organization of trial court circuits and districts, including distribution of judgeships. The first step in the process – a weighted caseload study – is being undertaken by the National Center for State Courts.

There is “not one person from Virginia Beach on that panel,” said Del. Sal Iaquinto, R-Virginia Beach. “I don’t know how this panel was picked,” he said.

Also scrutinizing the committee makeup was the board of directors of the Virginia Beach Bar Association. “While we wish there was a representative from Virginia Beach, we are thankful there are two local representatives on the committee,” said chair Sandra L. Sampson.

The panel includes judges from both Hampton and Norfolk, as well as Chesapeake Circuit Court Clerk Faye W. Mitchell.

Sampson said the VBBA board was “cautiously optimistic” the committee will recognize that Virginia Beach is a resort city “with a multitude of unique distinctions to our docket.”

Generally, urban interests were overlooked in the committee, Iaquinto suggested. “It’s heavily weighted towards rural areas.”

Iaquinto said the critical issues for the panel are in the state’s larger jurisdictions.

Among those critical issues is a proposal to combine the Arlington and Alexandria circuits. “Looking from the outside, there appears to be some sense in doing something like that,” said McLean lawyer Joseph A. Condo, who acknowledges he has taken heat for his advocacy of a unified circuit along the Potomac.

Condo said he came to appreciate the difficulties of comparing caseloads when he heard about family law practices at a seminar this year. He said it seemed that every circuit had a different way of scheduling equitable distribution hearings, with some allowing only two hours for complex cases.

Virginia Beach lawyer Kevin Martingayle said any workload comparison should take into account the number of hours a judge has to sit on the bench every day. “That seems like a truer measure than just the number of cases on the docket,” he said.

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