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COVID-Altered Budget: Can State Lawmakers Squeeze in Funding for Clerk Positions?

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NPR
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Some of Virginia’s understaffed courts won big earlier this year when legislators approved funding for new district clerk positions. But their gain was lost to pandemic budget freezes, leaving court administrators to struggle under the weight of a workload that’s only grown because of COVID-19.

As Laura Griffin puts it, clerks are first responders, too.

“We are like an emergency room and we have people coming to our counters or calling us on the phone or emailing us with very emergent situations that require immediate resolution,” she explains.

Griffin works in the Chesterfield Juvenile and Domestic Relations court and represents her peers in the Virginia District Court Clerks Association.

Her job is to keep the courts running. She processes cases, helps judges and answers a constant stream of questions from people trying to navigate an often complicated judicial system.

“I don’t think that any other service to the public is less critical than providing access to justice,” says Griffin.

She understands that the state is facing a revenue shortfall, but she can’t imagine why increasing support for understaffed courts wouldn’t be a top priority, especially at a time when she and her colleagues are trying to get through a backlog of cases that piled up during a pause on non-emergency hearings earlier this year.

Lawmakers originally decided to pay for the new positions by raising certain court filing fees. While the jobs went by the wayside, that fee increase still took effect in July and the money is now going into the state's General Fund.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.