The Virginia General Assembly is expected to consider this year legislation to expand the jurisdiction of the Court of Appeals and reform the size and geography of the Court. In 2020, the Supreme Court of Virginia published a request for comments on a proposal to make drastic changes to the Court of Appeals of Virginia. Based on those comments, the proposed legislation would expand the number of judges from eleven to fifteen and expand the Court’s jurisdiction to include civil cases. The new reforms would also include ending the process of petitioning for appeal and would instead create an appeal of right from circuit court judgments.
The proposed changes would divide the Court into four geographic regions that would review appeals from the jurisdictions within their region.
It is unclear presently whether the General Assembly will address the related problem of low pay for court-appointed lawyers. Many appeals of criminal convictions are assigned to court-appointed counsel. Presently, court-appointed lawyers are usually paid only a few hundred dollars to represent a defendant on a criminal appeal that can take more than a hundred hours of attorney time. This system makes it difficult for trial judges to find qualified, experienced appellate lawyers who will take court-appointments, and creates a disincentive for attorneys to do the best possible work on these cases. As a consequence, there is often a significant difference between the skill and experience of the attorney for a defendant in contrast to the career appellate attorney representing the government in these cases at the Court of Appeals.