NBC12 INVESTIGATION: Will judges' retirement affect justice? - KPTV - FOX 12

NBC12 INVESTIGATION: Will judges' retirement affect justice?

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RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) -

There are concerns the wheels of justice might stop or slow down in the City of Richmond. In a six month period, the circuit court will lose three long-time judges.

Richmond Circuit Court handles some of the biggest cases, including the prosecutions of shootings, stabbings and the deaths of children. Now, the judges who preside over those cases will have to take on more, as three of the court's seven members retire.

Judge Margaret Spencer's last case was July 31st.  Judge Richard Taylor Jr. can stay on until December 1st, while Judge Melvin Hughes Jr., who has reached the retirement age of 70, has until twenty days after the regular legislative session begins.

The saying goes "justice delayed is justice denied"--the retirement of Judges Spencer, Taylor Jr. and Hughes Jr. has some attorneys fearing that saying could become reality.

"I can't believe those judges would let justice be denied," attorney Cary Bowen, who defends accused criminals across the state and right here in Richmond said. "It's not going to happen, but I'm worried the scheduling may be difficult enough that there'll be delays."

We checked in with the chief judge of the court to find out how they're going to ensure justice is still served. Judge Bradley Cavedo believes the biggest issue is going to be the loss of the institutional knowledge of judges who have been on the bench for decades.

But, he says the system will still work because all cases are assigned in a seven person rotation. Like a baseball lineup, cases are doled out at the top, then go down the list and back to the beginning.  Even with Judges Spencer, Hughes Jr. and Taylor Jr. off the rotation, cases will still be assigned to those slots; however, they'll be covered by substitute judges.

"It's going to be dealt with because they're going to be there," Judge Cavedo explained. "Either they're going to be there or some other retired judges are going to be there hearing the cases until the replacements will arrive."

Bowen says that's reassuring.

"They're tried and proven judges," he added. "They've got their work cut out for them."

The general assembly is responsible for replacing those judges. There is a chance it could fill Judge Spencer's vacancy in a special session next month. It is likely, however, lawmakers won't act on the other two until January.

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