County to support push for fifth judge

County to support push for fifth judge

Citing a workload that outpaces the courthouse personnel, the County Board of Commissioners agreed Thursday night to write a letter of support for the Griffin Judicial Circuit’s pursuit of a fifth judge.

If approved, the state would fund the fifth judge, along with an administrative assistant and law clerk, and it would also provide a state-paid Assistant District Attorney, assistant for the Assistant District Attorney, a District Attorney’s investigator, and an Assistant Public Defender.

The Griffin Judicial Circuit, made up of Fayette, Spalding, Upson, and Pike counties, has not yet confirmed support from all members. The fifth judgeship and accompanying personnel and support would cost Fayette roughly $193,400.

Judge W. Fletcher Sams spoke on behalf of the Superior Court Judges, explaining that the circuit is eligible for an extra judgeship because the state has determined the judges are overworked. On their scale, they determined that the four judges handle the case load normally reserved for 5.6 judges. This is the third year in a row the state has said the circuit is eligible.

“This is something that the state, through a case count study, has said now for three years that our citizens deserve and need,” Sams said. “If you speak to your District Attorney and circuit-wide public defender, they need additional help desperately.”

Representatives from the Griffin Judicial Circuit are scheduled to meet with the state’s Judicial Council on August 8. If approved by the Judicial Council, their recommendation will go before the General Assembly and the Governor for a vote for state funding.

Fayette will face stiff competition from the other qualifying counties, including Cobb and Gwinnett, but Fayette is the only county to qualify three straight years.

Sams noted that, either way, the court will badly need the additional support.

“I can almost guarantee you that if they’ve not already done so, the District Attorney and the Public Defender will be before you asking for the same state-paid positions to handle the same case load that the state says is necessary for public safety reasons,” he said. “If they don’t get the state-paid staff, they’re going to need to get it from somewhere. The question may be is it going to be state-paid or county-paid.”

Potentially muddying the water are ongoing rumblings about splitting up the judicial circuit, but Sams cautioned against going down that route at this juncture.

“It is an extremely expensive thing for the state of Georgia to do, and that’s what is rare,” Sams said, noting that adding judgeships is much more common. “My fear is that if it is linked, it will mean the demise of the fifth judgeship.”

Commissioner Charles Oddo threw his support behind the measure, saying that it’s better to try to get the state’s help before caseloads reach a crisis level in the county.

“My concern would be what happens if we don’t make the request and we don’t get the extra judge,” he said. “Where are we going to be when the need is greater than it is today?”

The measure of support passed 4-0, with Commissioner Charles Rousseau abstaining due to too many lingering questions for him.

Christopher Dunn

Managing Editor Christopher Dunn has been with the Fayette County News since 2011, in addition to running Fayette Victory magazine. He is a graduate of Fayette County schools, as well as a graduate of Georgia State University with a degree in journalism. Follow him on twitter @fayettesports.