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Arlington And Alexandria Await Courts Study

Merger a possibility, pending findings

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Justice is blind, but can her scales measure the respective caseloads of the Alexandria and Arlington Circuit Courts?
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Justice is blind, but can her scales measure the respective caseloads of the Alexandria and Arlington Circuit Courts?

Judges and prosecutors in Arlington and Alexandria are nervously awaiting the results of a study focusing on court caseloads throughout the commonwealth.

At the center of the study, underway now, is the question as to whether judges in Arlington have the same caseload as judges in Fairfax County. Depending on the results, it could lead towards a move merging the Alexandria Circuit Court with the Arlington Circuit Court.

Delegate Dave Albo says the study was approved this year by the General Assembly, after years of complaints charging that courts in Arlington and Alexandria simply aren't pulling their load — and that other court systems are overworked, while judges and prosecutors inside the beltway have relatively light caseloads.

"You talk to people in Alexandria say they're really busy. You talk to people in Arlington, they say they are really busy. You talk to people in Fairfax, and they say they are busier than Arlington and Alexandria," says Albo.

Recent years have seen an escalation of tensions on the issue, and every time a judicial vacancy is on the docket for Arlington or Alexandria, the conversation begins again. This year, legislators struck a deal: they would approve two new judges for Arlington in exchange of approval for a study that would find out just how the court systems stack up against each other.

Senator Adam Ebbin says combining the court systems would be a mistake: "We're all interested in increased efficiencies, but from what I'm hearing, we're not going to find them by combining the two busier systems with more complex dockets," says Ebbin.

It's a sentiment echoed by Albo, who serves as tehe House Courts of Justice Chairman.

"Two people who are 22 years old and have no kids get divorced, and that case counts the same as two technology executives worth $100 million and have four kids and can't stand each other," said Albo.

The study is expected to take about 18 months, so the effort to combine the two court systems could be on the agenda for 2014.

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