Judge position may not be filled

Published 8:11 am Friday, February 26, 2010

RICHMOND—State budget woes could leave Virginia’s Fifth Judicial Circuit a judge short later this year.

Chief Judge Westbrook J. Parker announced last year his plan to retire at the end of his term this June. The General Assembly was expected to consider a replacement for the vacancy this year, but that may not be the case, according to the budget approved by the House of Delegates.

“The House budget does not have any money in it for that judgeship,” said Mary Kate Felch of the Virginia Division of Legislative Services. Sen. Fred Quayle, R-Suffolk, said the House’s budget leaves “quite a few” judicial vacancies.

“I’m disappointed that the House chose that method of balancing their budget,” he said.

Delegate Bill Barlow, D-Smithfield, said that he is “very concerned about” the lack of funding for vacant judgeships in the House’s biennial budget.

“It’s one of many things in the House budget that made me vote against it,” he said. “It’s in the best interest of the citizens that we have these positions filled on a permanent basis,” Barlow said. He said leaving them vacant could lead to a backlog of cases, risking the state’s ability to provide a speedy trial as guaranteed in the Constitution. He also said increased use of visiting judges could have a negative effect.

The Senate’s budget proposal, which includes funding to replace Parker, must be merged with the House’s proposal in the Budget Conference Committee, where House and Senate conferees will hammer out a compromise.

“I have no idea what is going to come out of conference,” said Quayle, who is not a member of the conference committee. Even if the final budget does include funding, Quayle said there might not be enough time left in the session to fill the judgeship, considering no candidates have been interviewed.

“Whether that will be filled or not, we don’t know,” Felch said. If Parker’s judgeship were left unfilled, it would leave Judges Rodham T. Delk Jr. and Carl Edward Eason Jr. to pick up the slack.

Parker has been a judge on the Fifth Circuit since 1986 and would’ve been up for reappointment this year.

The Fifth Judicial Circuit includes the cities of Franklin and Suffolk and Southampton and Isle of Wight counties.