Pay Your Lawyer and Pay Your Judge

In York, Virginia, to obtain a divorce order and division of family property, you probably want a lawyer. Ka-ching, Ka-ching (that’s the sound of the lawyer’s cash register.) But you also need to spend a lot more, since in York there are no judges who hear divorce cases.

Solution? Appoint lawyers as temporary judges and charge the divorcing parties $250.00 an hour for every hour they use a judge. Say what?

The family division of York’s 9th Circuit Court lost their only judge when he died in 2008. A battle ensued between two state politicians over who would be the replacement and with no consensus between them, no judge could be appointed.

To add to the problem, the county budget for York inadvertently deleted the funding for a judge. Consequently, Judge Hoover of the 9th Circuit Court ordered that attorneys be hired as temporary judges, to be paid for by litigants. To have a divorce case heard in York, the parties each are required to deposit $2000.00 with the court and from these funds, must pay $250.00 for every hour they utilize a judge in a contested matrimonial proceeding.

Every other divorce litigant in the State of Virginia only pays their lawyer. But that’s not the only problem.

Firstly, constitutionally, court services are required to be available and to be state funded. Secondly, in York County there is a small cadre of family law lawyers who now also sit from time to time as judges. The perception of “horse trading” is disturbing. Finally, the added expense of a judge-for-hire may be prohibitive to some.

Virginia is not alone when it comes to delays in appointing judges. In 2009, trials in British Columbia were cancelled because retired judges were not being replaced as quickly as required. In addition, there are still too many occasions when a matter set down to be heard in court, cannot go ahead because there are too many cases, and not enough judges.

I say that British Columbia’s trials that last multiple months or years are another significant factor. If you have judges involved in trials that take multiple months or years to complete, you lose those judges for that period of time.

What’s wrong with a court system that cannot complete a criminal trial within a reasonable period of time? Plenty!

In a speech delivered in 2007 by Chief Justice McLachlan of the Supreme Court of Canada, she noted that not that long ago a murder trial took five to seven days, now it takes five to seven months and often longer. There is something terribly wrong with this picture.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang


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