The 23rd Judicial Circuit is comprised of the Cities of Salem and Roanoke, and the County of Roanoke. The Judges from each Court can sit in any of our local courthouses. Because of loss of state revenue due to the economic downturn and the resulting need to do more with less, there is a freeze in Virginia in appointing new Judges. We have not felt the effects of this freeze in the 23rd Circuit as none of our Judges have retired while the freeze has been in effect. As of this writing none of our Judges have reached the mandatory retirement age of 70. Other jurisdictions have not been so fortunate.
We have six Circuit Court Judges who hear divorce cases, felony and some misdemeanor criminal cases and civil suits as well as appeals from the district courts. The effects of having one Judge out of commission would add another 16% plus to each Judge’s case load. Two Judges retiring would increase the remaining Judge’s case loads by one-third each. Having a case heard within any acceptable time frame would be unlikely. In General District Court and in Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court the effects would be worse. These high volume courts have only five Judges for General District Court and four Judges for Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court. Loss of a Judge would increase the number of cases heard by each Judge by twenty percent and twenty-five percent respectively.
Some possible solutions to the problem (at least until the freeze can be lifted) have been suggested. First, allow areas that have lost Judges to borrow from other Circuits. This would help some areas that have been hard hit but hurt areas such as ours as we would need to share our Judges. Second, increase the mandatory retirement age of Judges to 73. This would not help in cases where a Judge decided to retire early. Until the situation becomes dire don’t expect to see any action taken.