Richmond-based General District Judge Ralph Robertson filed a suit in November challenging the policy requiring justices to be on the bench or in their offices 40 hours a week. In his challenge, Robertson called the rule a case of the Committee on District Courts, which set the 40-hour a week policy, “micro-managing state judges,” saying, “It has to stop somewhere,” according to a Richmond Times-Dispatch report.
Robertson pointed to the limitation set in 2002 on the number of days that judges could have substitutes sit for them, 25 per year, even though many judges have 30 days of vacation. This “effective reduction in leave amounts,” Robertson argued lowered the pay of state judges, which is barred by the Virginia Constitution, Robertson said.
The Committee on District Courts said the rule was adopted on the insistence of the chief justice of the Virginia Supreme Court Leroy Hassell, who was concerned that some district judges routinely left early.
The problem as Hassell sees it lies in how courts set their docket for the day. Many general district courts in Virginia set all their cases at 9 a.m., rather than schedule them individually or in segments. To this, Hassell also proposed setting court schedules that do not require the public to wait more than an hour, which also drew criticism from Robertson. Robertson charges Hassell’s proposal on court scheduling does not take into account the inconvenience a change in scheduling would place on prosecutors, public defenders and sheriffs.
Arguing for the Committee on District Courts, Senior Assistant Attorney General Peter Messitt said the requirement of a 40-hour week merely supplements the earlier policy that “a judge’s commitment is full-time during normal business hours.” Further, he points to the fact that even though the state constitution bars a reduction in pay, it says nothing about changes in benefits.
F. Bruce Bach, a retired Fairfax County circuit judge heard arguments in the case after Richmond judges disqualified themselves. Bach agreed with the rule, finding Robertson had not raised any claim that a court could decide in his favor.