Al­covy Ju­di­cial Cir­cuit fac­ing pos­si­ble split

Of­fi­cials ex­pect de­ci­sion soon

The Covington News - - Front Page - By Rachel Oswald

Of­fi­cials close to the de­bate as to whether to split the Al­covy Ju­di­cial Cir­cuit or to add a fifth judge say a de­ci­sion one way or the other is close at hand.

Rep. Robert Mum­ford (RCony­ers) said he ex­pects his bill to split the Al­covy Ju­di­cial Cir­cuit, cur­rently com­pris­ing both New­ton and Wal­ton Coun­ties, to be voted on by the House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee within the next few days.

Mum­ford’s bill to split the cir­cuit ( HB 1006) has four co-spon­sors in­clud­ing Rep. Doug Holt (R-Cov­ing­ton) and Rep. John Lunsford (RMcDonough). An­other bill (HB 1254) in­tro­duced by Mum­ford and co-spon­sored by Holt and Lunsford would add a fifth judge to the Al­covy Cir­cuit. Both bills are in the Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee

Mum­ford and New­ton County Su­pe­rior Court Judge Samuel Ozburn will be meet­ing to­day with the chair­man of the Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, Rep.

Wen­dell Wil­lard (R-Sandy Springs) to dis­cuss the op­tion of split­ting the cir­cuit or adding a fifth judge. Mum­ford has al­ready met with Gov. Sonny Per­due to dis­cuss the split.

HB 1006 would split the caseload of the Al­covy Ju­di­cial Cir­cuit by cre­at­ing a new Wal­ton Ju­di­cial Cir­cuit. New­ton County would re­main un­der the Al­covy Ju­di­cial Cir­cuit. Two Al­covy Su­pe­rior Court Judges, John Ott and Eu­gene Ben­ton who both live in Wal­ton County, would leave the Al­covy Cir­cuit for the Wal­ton Cir­cuit.

Judge Ozburn and Judge Ho­race John­son would re­main in New­ton County with the Al­covy Ju­di­cial Cir­cuit. HB 1006 also calls for the cre­ation of a new dis­trict at­tor­ney po­si­tion for the Wal­ton Cir­cuit. Ken Wynne, dis­trict at­tor­ney for the Al­covy Cir­cuit, would stay in New­ton County.

The es­ti­mated cost of split­ting the cir­cuit is $640,000 a year. This is the sec­ond con­sec­u­tive year Mum­ford has in­tro­duced a bill to split the cir­cuit. The cost of adding a fifth judge to the Al­covy Cir­cuit is es­ti­mated to be $600,000 an­nu­ally.

As the cost of adding a fifth judge is al­most as much as the cost of split­ting the cir­cuit, Mum­ford and Ozburn said they be­lieve it is more eco­nom­i­cally ef­fi­cient to split the cir­cuit.

“We’re go­ing to need some type of re­lief be­cause we’re go­ing at 110 per­cent,” Ozburn said. “We’re just con­stantly in court. We just don’t want things to back up so that peo­ple are hav­ing to wait years for the case to come to court. It’s not good for any­one for a case to be de­layed for any long pe­riod.”

Ac­cord­ing to Ozburn the av­er­age caseload for a judge in Ge­or­gia is 2,200. Right now the av­er­age caseload for an Al­covy Judge is 2,800 Ozburn said.

“I’m think­ing that a cir­cuit split may be more ef­fi­cient but that’s not my call,” Ozburn said. “Ba­si­cally we’re just leav­ing it up to the leg­is­la­ture and the gov­er­nor as to what will be en­acted.”

Mum­ford said he is hope­ful the bill to split the Al­covy Cir­cuit will pass, but if it doesn’t he said he is op­ti­mistic the cir­cuit will get a fifth judge.

“We are hop­ing that the gov­er­nor is go­ing to be in fa­vor of [split­ting the Al­covy Cir­cuit],” Mum­ford said. “Clearly the gov­er­nor has to be con­cerned about the funds.

If they split one cir­cuit, there may be other cir­cuits that are in­ter­ested in split­ting, and I think that’s what his of­fice is study­ing now.”

A re­cent study by the Ad­min­is­tra­tive Of­fice of the Courts of Ge­or­gia placed the Alocvy Ju­di­cial Cir­cuit at the top of the list of court cir­cuits in need of ad­di­tional judges.

“We are num­ber one on the list be­cause of the very high caseload in the coun­ties,” Mum­ford said. “I think the ques­tion is, which is it go­ing to be? Is it go­ing to be an­other judge or a cir­cuit split?”

Ac­cord­ing to Ozburn if the cir­cuit was split, the judges in the Al­covy Cir­cuit would wind up with a higher caseload be­cause New­ton County is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a 15 per­cent higher caseload than Wal­ton County.

Ozburn es­ti­mated if the cir­cuit were to be split, he and Judge John­son would each end up with ap­prox­i­mately 3,100 cases while Judges Ben­ton and Ott would each be left with 2,400 cases.

De­spite the higher caseload, Ozburn said he was in fa­vor of the split as he saw it as a nec­es­sary first step in stream­lin­ing the cir­cuit. Once the cir­cuit is split Ozburn said he would be in fa­vor of the cre­ation of a state court to han­dle mis­de­meanor cases and con­tract dis­putes for the county, leav­ing the felonies, child cus­tody cases and di­vorces with the New­ton County Su­pe­rior Court.

“A state court would take that away from us, leav­ing us with the more se­ri­ous crimes,” Ozburn said.

Ozburn said any pos­si­bil­ity of a state court is sev­eral years down the road. Ozburn said a state court would be en­tirely lo­cally funded, but the court would gen­er­ally pay for it­self through rev­enue gen­er­ated from fines.

“A study would be done con­cern­ing the pro­jected cost based on cur­rent case load and how much money would be gen­er­ated from op­er­at­ing a state court in terms of fines,” Ozburn said. “From what I un­der­stand from other stud­ies, a state court will pay for it­self through fines.”

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