Courts across the commonwealth - including Charlottesville - are waiting to hand over gavels to a new generation of judges. For some communities, it could be a long wait.
The budget on Governor Terry McAuliffe's desk slices funding for dozens of new judges. Charlottesville Circuit Court hasn't had a full-time judge since February, which means court orders don't get a judge's signature as quickly and people accused of crimes are waiting longer for their day in court. Now, the budget showdown in Richmond is slowing down justice even more.
“July 1 is not looking like we're going to have a judge,” said Charlottesville Circuit Court Clerk Llezelle Dugger.
Dugger is scheduling a full docket of cases with a rotating bench. “We've had judges from Fairfax, Arlington, Roanoke, Rocky Mount, Virginia Beach, Portsmouth, Richmond,” Dugger said.
Edward Hogshire's retirement left the judgeship empty, creating a backlog and delays.
“The stress is really, administratively, that we have to make sure we have judges here for the cases we already have set,” Dugger said.
Virginia's budget proposed filling those vacancies and adding judges - for a total of about 430 statewide. The final spending plan approved by the General Assembly late last week cut funding down to 396.
“We're working through what that will mean for our community. The best current estimate is that we don't lose any judge positions, but we also don't gain any either,” said 58th District Delegate Rob Bell (R).
Bell says the Charlottesville vacancy will get filled, but juvenile and domestic relations courts in central Virginia and the valley are unlikely to get additional judges. Filling the bench is based on a formula Bell says unfairly treats rural circuit courts where judges hear cases across several counties.
“All of that travel time, all the things the judge has to do to maintain two different courtrooms - we don't think is accurately reflected in the formula. We think we actually have not as many judges as we would like to have here,” he said.
Dugger's court is booking a lineup of benchwarmers until funding comes for a permanent replacement.
“I have no allusions that I know what goes on at the General Assembly at any level, so like everybody else in Virginia we're just waiting to see,” Dugger said.
Bell says if the governor signs the budget without changes, lawmakers can get to work immediately interviewing candidates and appointing judges.
The budget does take away a general district judgeship in the valley when a judge retires or resigns.