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Commission skeptical about need for new Fayette judge

While Fayette County’s judicial circuit caseload meets state thresholds for adding another superior court judge, the concept wasn’t well-received by the Fayette County Commission Wednesday afternoon.

Will Simmons, the court administrator for the Sixth Administrative Judicial District, said the county’s four judges, — who also hold court in Spalding, Pike and Upson counties — were handling the workload of an additional 1.33 judges.

The Judicial Council of Georgia is expected to determine next month which new judgeships it will authorize, Simmons explained. But those would merely be recommended positions as the final authority rests with the Georgia legislature which must pony up 90 percent of the judge’s salary along with a law clerk and secretary, with Fayette, Spalding, Pike and Upson making up the rest.

The county pays 50 percent of the judges’ costs based on population and case filings, County Administrator Jack Krakeel said.

The counties are also on the hook for additional costs for a new judge such as a new courtroom and other “significant” capital costs, Krakeel added.

Commissioner Lee Hearn said he wanted to see “the overall big picture” before considering whether he would agree to the county supporting the concept.

“Keep in mind it will cost you more money,” said Commissioner Herb Frady, before Chairman Jack Smith chimed in to finish the sentence: “... Than you ever anticipated.”

Simmons said the judicial council looks at the county’s growth rate, the number of filings per judge, the number of open filings per judge, and any case backlog among other criteria.

Smith asked if the data takes into consideration cases that are filed and eventually dismissed, on the theory that they ultimately don’t require as much of a judge’s time compared to normal cases.

Simmons said currently that is not a factor in the data evaluation.

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