VA Budget Stalemate Hinders Cville Court Proceedings
It’s like a rerun of a bad TV show - state lawmakers still can’t strike a deal on Virginia’s two-year, $97 billion budget. That’s leading to some major delays inside Charlottesville Circuit Court, and could be denying a basic constitutional right.
CASES BACKING UP
Three months after Charlottesville Circuit Court Judge Edward Hogshire retired, his old stomping grounds have been running a bit behind schedule.
“If we're up and running with a resident judge fully functioning, we have court just about every day,” said Charlottesville Commonwealth’s Attorney Dave Chapman.
The court now relies exclusively on the help of substitute judges, often retired themselves, to hear cases. The result is a major case backlog, on a sporadic schedule. During a good week different judges might take the bench three or four times. Last week, court met only once.
“Our hands are tied. The schedule is dictated by the fact that we don't have a sitting judge and we rely on substitute judges,” said Jim Hingeley, public defender for Charlottesville and Albemarle.
If cases are backing up, getting back to normal seems relatively easy - just appoint a new judge, right? Not so fast.
Before Hogshire’s replacement takes the bench, lawmakers in Richmond will need to put down their spears and pass a budget. Three months after the legislature adjourned the regular session, that’s still a tall order to fill.
A “SPEEDY” TRIAL
But here’s the real issue: without a resident judge on the bench, some people are left sitting behind bars at the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail for much longer than they would otherwise.
“They're going to sit in jail and have uncertainty as to what's going to happen, when it's going to happen,” Chapman said.
In some cases, they might wait in custody for several days before even having an attorney appointed at their first appearance. As for bond hearings, which can usually be scheduled within a week, Hingeley says, “we're finding that they don't have the ability to give us hearings that quickly. It may be two weeks, it may be three weeks. It may be longer.”
John Whitehead, a Charlottesville-based constitutional law expert with The Rutherford Institute, says there is "a good possibility" some constitutional violations have already occurred.
“They're stuck there,” he said. "They probably don't have adequate representation in many cases. We want to make sure that they do get a hearing.”
THE TRUE COST
The Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail confirms it has seen some court-related delays. Its interim superintendent also says its inmate population is higher than normal, though there is not necessarily a direct link.
As for cost, localities spend about $67 a day to house someone in the jail. With more delays over time, that cost can add up quickly — but that’s not the only price.
“The most important cost is the cost to a person and family that are affected by length of time in jail,” Chapman said. “That’s a cost that’s extremely hard to measure in dollars and cents, but it’s the greatest cost that’s experienced.”
“This is a real harm to these people,” Hingeley said.
The worst part is, until state lawmakers adjourn the special legislative session or pass a budget, nothing is likely to change.
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Ed joined the NBC29 news team in May, 2011. A Charlotte, NC, native, he graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with degrees in journalism and political science.Full Story
Ed joined the NBC29 news team in May, 2011. A Charlotte, NC, native, he graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with degrees in journalism and political science. Email/Follow on Twitter/ Full Story
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