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Governor puts judgeship bills on hold

Gov. Terry McAuliffe is adding language to the General Assembly’s judgeship allocation bills to make the bills contingent on budget support, even though the judgeship plan was not dependent on funding.

By tying the new statewide trial judge plan to the budget, McAuliffe could stymie efforts to fund and fill many of the vacant judgeships, one Republican delegate said.

McAuliffe has recommended appropriation amendments to 11 bills in an apparent effort to pressure Republicans resisting the effort to expand Virginia’s Medicaid program.

Most of the bills had spending provisions, but the judgeship bills, House Bill 606 and Senate Bill 443, merely established the allocation of judges for Virginia’s circuits and districts. Decisions had not yet been made on which judgeships to fund and who should fill vacant judgeships.

McAuliffe nonetheless declined to sign the judgeship bills, instead proposing the following language: “That the provisions of this act shall not become effective unless an appropriation effectuating the purposes of this act is included in a general appropriation act passed in 2014 by the General Assembly that becomes law.”

That language threatens to block the process of funding and filling judgeships, according to Del. Greg Habeeb, R-Salem.

Because the House and Senate were unlikely to agree to fund every one of the 429 positions included in the judgeship bills, the bill could never go into effect under McAuliffe’s amendment, Habeeb said.

The planning process for funding and filling judgeships would grind to a halt, and a tentative schedule of interviews with prospective new judges would have to be put on hold, Habeeb said.

“I think it’s a fundamental misunderstanding of how judgeships are created and funding is approved for the judgeships,” Habeeb said.

Habeeb said legislators were close to working out which judgeships would be funded, and “we were about to schedule interviews for judges in two weeks.”

Another bill held up by McAuliffe’s action would reinstate Virginia’s judicial performance evaluation program. House Bill 272 – which does have a spending component – would restart the program that provided self-improvement resources for judges and information for the Assembly’s decisions on judges.

McAuliffe’s office did not immediately respond to a request to for more information on the judgeship bill amendments.

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