By: Sarah A. Piper
How long is too long to make a litigant wait for a decision in their case? That question was recently addressed by the General Assembly, with Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe approving House Bill 269 reducing the amount of time that a Judge can take an issue under advisement before issuing a ruling from 90 to 60 days.
Effective July 1, 2014, Section 17.1-107 of the Code of Virginia will be amended to require a Circuit Court Judge who takes any issue under advisement for more than 60 days to report to the parties or their counsel when a decision can be expected. Not only will the revised Code section serve to shorten the time period that a Judge can hold a case, but it also attempts to clarify the scope of the matters to which it applies (all matters, not just a final decision in a matter or on the ultimate issue).
Parties who feel that a Judge has held a case in violation of this provision may make a confidential complaint to the Chief Justice of the Virginia Supreme Court, who shall address the delay and, if necessary, assign another Judge to assist and help expedite the process.
News of this change comes while the Commonwealth’s budget is being debated—a budget which almost certainly will include funding cuts for judicial seats, serving to further reduce the number of Judges in the Commonwealth.
It remains to be seen how this new provision will affect our family law litigants and the already over-taxed judicial system, especially in jurisdictions like Fairfax County which hears a large number of complex civil and business cases and whose Judges often must take matters under advisement.