The General Assembly on Saturday adopted a revised two-year $107 billion budget that closed a $1.2 billion deficit while also restoring raises for state employees, continuing the expansion of mental health services and protecting education funding. The budget passed 40-0 in the State Senate and 96-1 in the House of Delegates.
While the Assembly members hailed the final spending plan as a success story, two Loudoun delegates took to the House floor Saturday morning to register their concerns about a specific omission. A vacant Loudoun County Circuit Court judgeship was defunded as part of the cost-cutting. Loudoun’s legal community has warned that the reduction from four to three judges hearing cases will result in significant delays.
The House budget included money to fill the seat that came open with the retirement of Burke F. McCahill, but the Senate budget did not. The budget conference committee left the funding out of its final report.
While all nine members of Loudoun’s General Assembly delegation voted to support the budget, Del. J. Randall Minchew (R-10) and Del. John Bell (D-87) called attention to the concern before casting their votes.
“Mr. Speaker, you deployed the finest budget negotiators we have in this house to defend our budget and I earnestly believe that if they couldn’t preserve funding for that judgeship, no one could,” Minchew said in calling for others to support the budget. But, he said, the cut to the judiciary in fast-growing Loudoun will have significant impact.
“Our court dockets, Mr. Speaker, are very robust and crowded. If you want a two-week trial for your trade secrets conversion trial, you’ll be told you have to wait 18 months before you can have judge time and that you should consider going to mediation,” Minchew said.
Bell said he recently met with Commonwealth’s Attorney Jim Plowman and the three Circuit Court judges. “Loudoun County is really hurting for that open judgeship,” he said. “They’re overwhelmed. I hope that as brighter financial days come, and I hope they will, I ask you to remember that this judgeship is a priority.”
Without action from Gov. Terry McAuliffe to reinstate funding, it will likely be July 2018 before there is a possibility of re-instating the county’s fourth judgeship as part of the next biennial budget cycle.