RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Does Virginia need more lawyers? A recent report from the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) says yes.
The report found 6.5% of Virginia’s commonwealth attorney positions currently sit vacant, citing low pay and a state-imposed cap on how much court-appointed attorneys can make as the reasons behind the shortage.
“Defense attorneys are not being paid as well as they are in many other states,” 8News Legal Analyst Russ Stone said.
The report also says the amount of time attorneys have to examine electronic evidence such as videos, text messages and GPS data — which may not be compensated for because of Virginia’s low pay caps — could be playing a part in the shortage.
“When the police have their body-worn cameras, they have to be reviewed by a prosecutor,” Stone explained. “They literally, under the Constitution, are required to look at everything on there. They then have to turn it over to the defense.”
According to the report, an attorney’s average time spent on a class two violent felony case was 25 hours, with 20% of the hours being paid under the pay cap and 45% not reimbursed for the extra time spent.
For a juvenile case, the average time spent was 10 hours, with 13% paid and 87% of their time not reimbursed. A driving while impaired misdemeanor case took six hours to review, with 20% of the time being paid and 80% not reimbursed, according to the report.
Stone says with too few attorneys, justice may not be served in your community.
“There are more cases, but there aren’t any more people to handle them in court, so the net effect is going to be that the system just can’t handle all the cases,” Stone said.
The report found that the state had about 4,000 attorneys appointed in 2013. That number is now down to 1,900. To meet new standards, the state would have to fund 112 more positions to meet the statewide workload.