Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
Home / The SCoVA Blog / Court wins grant to study senior judge system

Court wins grant to study senior judge system

The Supreme Court of Virginia has received a $130,000 grant from the National Center for State Courts to study a system for using designated senior judges to sit in Virginia trial courts, Chief Justice Cynthia D. Kinser announced on Nov. 1.

Authorized by the 2013 General Assembly, the study will look at supplementing sitting judges with retired trial court judges who are formally designated as “senior judges,” Kinser told a meeting of the Committee on District Courts.

Virginia’s appellate courts use senior judges and justices, who perform a set amount of work for a fixed amount of pay. For instance, senior justices of the Supreme Court do 25 percent of a regular justice’s case load, according to Kinser. Quantifying judicial workload has been an easier task for appellate courts than for trial courts.

But that should change when the Supreme Court receives the weighted case load study of Virginia trial courts, conducted by the NCSC and due Nov. 15. Data from the weighted case load study should shape the calculus for a trial judge’s workload in order to structure a senior judge system. The General Assembly authorized the $240,000 weighted case load study in 2012. Although the legislature provided funds for the weighted case load study, the Supreme Court had to seek grant money for the senior judge study.

Using an institutionalized senior judge system could eliminate use of special justices and of substitute judges, who sit one day as a judge and the next day may again appear in court as an attorney. Numerous judges who have been elected by the legislature have cited service as a substitute judge as a valuable training ground, or even a chance to see if the lawyer really likes being a judge.

There have been proposals to increase the retirement age for Virginia judges, but implementation of a senior judge system could allow the state to maintain the current retirement age but give some judges the opportunity to continue in formal service a few more years, according to Sen. Ryan McDougle, R-Caroline County, a member of the CDC.

In addition to possible cost savings, a senior judge system also could improve the administration of justice in the commonwealth, Kinser said.

Leave a Reply