Virginia's Judicial Caseload Overload

Monday, Dec 2, 2013  |  Updated 8:47 PM EDT
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Virginia's Judicial Caseload Overload

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Virginia needs at least 30 new judges to preside over juvenile and circuit courts, a study concludes.

The cost of adding those new judges and related expenses would total more than $9 million, making it unlikely that lawmakers can find the funds to pay for them, The Free Lance-Star reported Monday.

The $240,000 study was conducted by the National Center for State Courts. It was given to the Supreme Court of Virginia in November and presented to the House Appropriations Committee during its annual budget retreat last week.

Legislators commissioned the study because of rising caseloads in several judicial districts.

Judges were asked how much time and effort a variety of cases take and a weighted caseload calculation was used to determine which districts are overworked.

The study found that the number of judges sitting on trial courts is ``inadequate to handle the total workload of the courts.''

"The General Assembly should consider filling judicial vacancies, and in some cases creating new judicial positions, in circuits and districts where the weighted caseload model shows a need for additional judicial resources,'' it continued.

Juvenile and domestic relations need 17 new judges, the report recommends.

To keep apace of the caseload, the report said, the state's circuit courts need to fill all current vacancies, plus add 13 new judges.

In general district courts, the report says the number of authorized judgeships is adequate, provided lawmakers fill at least six of the vacancies.

The study was prompted because in the 40 years since the state's judicial circuits were last drawn, the population has shifted. As a result, some districts now have much higher caseloads than others.

The study concludes, however, that the state would see little benefit from redrawing the judicial district boundaries that have been in place since 1973.

To save money, lawmakers have frozen a number of bench slots in recent years, not filling vacancies when judges retire.

One state delegate said he doubts lawmakers will allocate money for new judgeships in the two-year state budget they'll write in the 2014 session, which starts in January.

"I certainly think we'll try to make a dent into it,'' said House Majority Leader Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, who is a member of the budget-writing House Appropriations Committee. ``But it would be very difficult to do the `full monty,' as they say.''
 

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