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Special Session Will Remake Virginia Court Of Appeals

Court of Appeals of Virginia Website

Lawmakers will be back in Richmond next week to figure out how to spend more than four billion dollars of federal stimulus money.

They'll also elect several new judges.

Earlier this year, lawmakers took action to expand the jurisdiction of the Virginia Court of Appeals. Until they sent that bill to the governor, Virginia was the only state in the country that did not guarantee a right to appeal. Now lawmakers are about adding six new judges to the 11 member court.

Senator Scott Surovell of Fairfax County says it's an opportunity to address the lack of geographic balance on the court.  "Out of the eight judges that are currently going to be sitting after January 1, most of them are from Richmond or Hampton Roads," Surrovell notes.  "There's one from Winchester. Otherwise, there's not a single judge who lives west of Richmond. And there's only one person from Northern Virginia."

Legal expert Rich Kelsey hopes the General Assembly will be less interested in where the judges are from than what kind of experience they have, especially considering the newly expanded jurisdiction will mean the court will be hearing different kinds of cases.  "It will look to fill these positions with judges who have significant commercial and civil litigation experience because they're going to now see these types of cases at the appeal level, which they never saw before. And you want to have judges who have experience with those types of cases on your bench," Kelsey says.

The appeals court has an existing vacancy and another judge who will be retiring soon. So lawmakers are expected to elect eight judges, including the six newly created positions to the appeals court.

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

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.