Northern Virginia lawyers and judges agreed yesterday that the state's court system is unable to deal effectively with many family disputes and called for a new family court to handle most domestic cases.
"The system is broke and it needs fixing," Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge Richard J. Jamborski told members of the Judicial Council of Virginia studying proposals for creating the new court. "I believe the citizens of Virginia, especially our children, are being subjected to unnecessary confusion."
"It's simply a bad system for resolving family problems," Fairfax lawyer Robert Surovell said at the hearing before a packed courtroom at the county courthouse.
Lawyers and judges complained that the current system of handling family-related matters in the state's court systems is unwieldy, with overlapping jurisdiction between the circuit courts and the juvenile and domestic relations court.
Others testified that a new court was not needed.
Vincent M. Picciano, director of court services for the Fairfax County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court, said he believed the proper services were already in place and that the problems could be solved without creating a new system.
"I'm saying let's look at the problems identified and see if they can't be resolved right now," said Picciano. "It's hard to be opposed to it, and it's hard to be in favor of it because it's such an unclear concept."
Hearings on the issue are being conducted throughout the state, with several state lawmakers preparing to introduce legislation in the 1987 Virginia General Assembly that would create the new court.
Under the present system, juvenile courts, which traditionally hear domestic relations cases, may be circumvented by either party raising the same issues in a circuit court or by appealing the juvenile court case. In the case of an appeal, a new trial is conducted.
That process results in confusion and the "stress and anxieties" resulting from delays and multiple hearings, Jamborski told the panel.
"That [family] court is desperately needed," lawyer Joanne F. Alper, chairman of the board of governors of the Family Law Section of the Virginia State Bar, told the panel. Alper said the emotional and financial cost of the current system is "incalculable."
The juvenile court now has jurisdiction over cases involving delinquents, juveniles accused of traffic violations, abused or neglected children, adults accused of child abuse or neglect and adults involved in cases over support, visitation or child custody.
Many of those cases now may be taken to the circuit court level.
"The people are not served when a judge's decision can be wiped away in minutes," said Joseph Condo, president of the Fairfax Bar Association, which has not taken a position on the court. Many families end up having to tell and retell their stories, he said.
The Judicial Council said no specific guidelines for the jurisdictions of the proposed new court have been developed.