The chief judge of the Fairfax County Circuit Court and the court clerk say the case is not closed on their struggle over who runs the judges' staff, even though the judge is stepping down.
Chief Judge Lewis Hall Griffith, who will retire Oct. 1, said he does not see an end to the controversy over whether Circuit Court judges should have their own staffs or whether the clerk of the court, who is elected, should be the primary administrator of the judges' staff.
"I don't anticipate it going away," said Griffith, adding that the dispute played a "minimal" role in his decision to retire. "We are operating in the manner we feel is necessary to ensure the administration of justice and we anticipate that will continue."
On the other side of the bench, Warren E. Barry, clerk of the court, acknowledges that Griffith won part of their duel when the county gave him his own staff agency. But Barry said he is awaiting a decision on a bill he supports in the General Assembly that would decide whether a judge has the power to request money from local governments. The bill was held over for the next session.
"I'm elected to do those things," Barry said. "A judge is appointed to the bench to administer justice."
Barry said a judge receiving money for staff directly from the county creates an appearance of a conflict of interest.
The dispute began shortly after Griffith became chief judge in January 1988. Griffith submitted a supplemental budget that included a request for his own staff, sidestepping the normal procedure of including the request in the clerk's budget.
The dispute boiled over when Barry threatened to sue Griffith and the county for usurping his constitutional authority. Nevertheless, the county awarded Griffith a staff called Judicial Operations.
Both still vigorously defend their positions.
Barry says: "You can't have it both ways: be autonomous and spend the public's money."
Griffith says: "I disagree and that has been the core of the controversy. If ever there was a conflict of interest, it seems to me it would involve who is providing you with your paycheck." The state pays judges. The county provides funding for their staff.
Since Griffith became chief judge, he has won praise for his wit and the dramatic changes in the court, including making it more accessible and implementing programs to speed the docket. Griffith, 59, said this week that the job has been demanding and has left him tired. He will work part time as a substitute judge.
The news of his retirement came down hard on many who work with him.
"It's breaking my heart," said Judge Johanna L. Fitzpatrick. "I'm really sad for us."
Griffith's departure raises the question of who will succeed him. Chief judges in Virginia are selected in secret by their colleagues.
Circuit Judge F. Bruce Bach, who has been on the bench 11 years, is said to be a strong contender for Griffith's job.
"I think that is nothing more than a rumor, let me tell you," Bach said. "That's very unlikely."
Even if the controversy over the judges' staffs continues, it no longer will be Griffith's problem. Neither will the burden of judging other people's actions every day.
"I can think of no more sobering experience than to sit in judgment of your fellow human being," he said. "There comes a time when you're perspective changes. I need a change. It's time to change."