The Shenandoah Valley is facing a series of scheduling headaches as state lawmakers can’t agree on a new district judge.
It's been two and a half months since Judge Lee McGratty stepped down as district judge for Staunton and Augusta County.
The General Assembly recently adjourned without agreeing on a replacement, leaving court clerks and fill-in judges scrambling to keep cases moving.
Around 2,000 cases a week come through Augusta County General District Court, one of 10 courtrooms in the district. Each new day can mean a different judge, one in a rotation of substitutes, while clerks and attorneys wait for the General Assembly to appoint a full-time judge to the bench.
“Sometimes the House and Senate just aren't going to agree on an issue,” said Delagate Chris Saxman (R-Staunton). “And as bills die, so do candidacies to fill judgeships.”
Added Rupen Shah with the Augusta Bar Association: “We need to let the legislature do their business and back off from pushing them in any way.”
Shah chairs a citizens panel that has recommended four candidates, two of them as "highly qualified." But lawmakers might not make an appointment this year, leaving those substitutes to handle the heavy caseload.
“It's not the ideal situation,” Saxman said. “But justice is being served, and people are being moved through the process in the general district court.”
Saxman says circuit judges are considering the vacancy and could appoint an interim jurist.
If the circuit court appoints an interim judge, he or she would serve at least until the General Assembly meets next January. It's possible, however, that legislators could appoint a permanent judge during a special session sometime this year.