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Legislators eager for court caseload details

Questions from lawmakers this week signaled a lot of interest in the ongoing study that could lead to changes in judge assignments around Virginia.

Responding to a question from Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Mount Solon, Virginia Supreme Court Executive Secretary Karl Hade said it was “premature” to expect any hints from the National Center for State Courts on its “weighted caseload” study of Virginia trial courts.

Hade said he had not heard any details from the NCSC about the study.

“A lot of people back home are interested in the outcome,” said Sen. Jill Vogel, R-Upperville.

The study is on course to be presented to the General Assembly in November, Hade said.

The 2013 General Assembly will have to decide how many – and which – judgeships to fund without the benefit of data from the caseload study. There are 47 vacancies, Hade said. Gov. Bob McDonnell’s budget proposal would provide money to fill 15 of them.

“There are a number of other vacancies that are in critical need of being filled,” Hade told members of a Senate Finance subcommittee. He noted McDonnell’s plan would fund one of two general district court vacancies in the sprawling 15th District, but that would still leave the area with a caseload 47.4 percent above average.

Also looking for favor from the Assembly money committees are state prosecutors. Salaries for assistant commonwealth’s attorneys are so low, lawyers are leaving for better paying jobs or taking part-time work in the evening, Lynchburg Commonwealth’s Attorney Mike Doucette told legislators.

“You cannot be an assistant commonwealth’s attorney who is tending bar at night and be effective the next day,” he said.

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