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Bill helps Loudoun avoid judicial crisis

It looks like Loudoun won't be losing any judges after all.

Despite fears of an incoming judge shortage, both the House of Delegates and Senate passed a compromise bill that adjusts the number of judges in state, overall adding, rather than subtracting judges. With the new bill, the 20th district, of which Loudoun is a part of, will maintain three general district judges and gain a fifth circuit court judge.

The move is a far cry from legislation that just two weeks ago was poised to defund one of Loudoun's general district judges.

House Bill 606 originally wasn't supposed to eliminate Loudoun's judges at all. First proposed by Del. Jackson Miller (R-50th) and co-patroned by Del. Randy Minchew (R-10th), who had sponsored a similar bill exclusively for the 20th district, HB 606 adjusted the judgeships statewide to put them in line with a multi-year caseload study conducted by the National Center for State Courts. Based on the study, Virginia would need an additional new 25 judges in the state; the 20th district, which under the study needed 4.7 circuit court judges and 3.6 general district judges, was poised to add one judge. Currently, the 20th has four circuit judges – three in Loudoun and one in Fauquier – and three general district court judges, again with one based in Fauquier.

But the appropriations committee modified the bill, actually reducing the amount of judges in the state by 16 general court judges, including one in Loudoun, and three circuit court judges.

In an earlier interview, Minchew explained the committee “arbitrarily said, 'if you don't have a .8, you round down'.”

Minchew voted against the modified bill and asked his name be removed.

Meanwhile, the Senate had maintained the original levels recommended by the case study in its own bill.

When the bills exchanged chambers, each house amended the bill to bring it in line with the bill it had already passed, forcing a conference committee to convene.

The six-person conference committee was composed of three delegates and three senators.

“They worked together to create a compromise,” Minchew explained. “Ultimately, the House agreed to go along with the weighted caseload study, which the Senate had in its judicial bill.”

The bill also expedited the process with which areas losing judges could get a substitute judge and added language to prevent districts from getting more judges than they are funded.

“That's just good government,” Minchew said. “You shouldn't get money for a judgeship above a statutory maximum.”

While the bill passed the House of Delegates March 7 and the state Senate March 8, there is still one caveat: there's currently no budget.

The state government is scheduled to reconvene March 24 after finishing session this weekend with no budget, due largely to debates over Medicaid expansion.

For his part, Minchew is confident in the state's ability to create a budget that will grant the appropriate amount of judicial funding.

“We're going to push as hard as we can to get that fifth judge funded,” Minchew said.

While four judges will definitely be authorized, the state still has yet to replace the now-retired Thomas Horne. Minchew said that Penn Bain, president of the Loudoun County Bar, has submitted three candidates and their qualifications for the vacant seat, and while he wouldn't reveal any names, Minchew expects the seat will be filled in April.

Loudoun's most recent judge, Stephen Sincavage, who has been acting as the retired judge James Chamblin's replacement, was formally confirmed to a six-year term during the legislative session.

Minchew hopes two new judges will join him by the summer.

“If this passes, we'll have a really good way of handling the docket,” Minchew said. “That was one of my goals this session.”


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