Editor: Your recent editorial concerning the Virginia General Assembly’s idiotic decision to de-fund one Circuit Court judgeship in Loudoun was on target at many levels, but missed one key point: The effect of caseloads on the thoroughness with which judges are able to conduct the business of dispensing justice.
The issue of funding Virginia’s judicial system has been a ping-pong ball for years. Recommendations from local bar associations whose members deal most closely with courts are subordinated to the politics of the legislature. Penny-pinching southwest legislators regularly ignore the fact that, were it not for the tax revenue cash cow that is Northern Virginia, the rest of the state would resemble Louisiana in virtually every aspect of government service. The oddest thing about the most recent
de-funding is that the current Attorney General is not only a Northern Virginian, he is from Loudoun County. As the chief legal advocate in Virginia, you’d think he would have some influence with a governor of the same party in seeing that the fastest growing, wealthiest jurisdiction in the state doesn’t get a reputation for being a judicial burial ground when it comes to speedy justice, whether criminal or civil.
Moreover, a jammed docket can also have the unfortunate side effect of encouraging criminal plea bargains as the solution-du-jour by putting judges in the position of appearing to evaluate these trial-circumvention devices based on the fact that it makes the rest of the judicial job less overwhelming rather than on the underlying merits of the plea bargains put in front of the court for ratification. It used to be conventional wisdom that prosecutors ginned up plea bargains to increase the conviction rate on which they could base re-election claims. Now, the state legislature has effectively put the courts in the position of being potentially questioned as to why lenient plea bargain deals don’t get more thorough judicial scrutiny.
Had the state legislature the misfortunate to be burdened with a conscience, it would revisit this issue immediately. It is, after all, the law-making body that creates the statutory jungle with which judges have to deal.
Brett Phillips, Georgetown, SC