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County to oppose fifth judge

A proposal to add a fifth Superior Court judge to the Griffin Judicial Circuit is being opposed by the Fayette County Commission.

At last week’s meeting, the commission discussed the fifth judge proposal, although it was not on the meeting agenda, according to minutes of the meeting.

The board voted unanimously to authorize Chairman Jack Smith to draft a letter to the state asking for a delay on the decision, citing several potential problems a fifth judge might create for the county, including:

• The personnel costs of adding a judge including his support staff;

• The cost of creating another courtroom on the third floor of the county’s Justice Center; and

• The need for further analysis of the state’s caseload data that shows a fifth judge is warranted for the four-county circuit which includes Fayette, Spalding, Pike and Upson counties.

Smith also suggested that the county also needed to look at the possibility of splitting Fayette County into its own circuit so those costs could be compared to the potential costs of adding a fifth judge and keeping the Griffin circuit’s four counties intact.

Although the matter is to be considered by the Judicial Council of Georgia, whether such a judgeship would be created would boil down to whether the Georgia Legislature ultimately appropriates funding for any judge positions recommended by the council.

It is unclear if there will be state funding for any new judgeships, however, as the state has virtually cut all funding for visiting senior judges who hear conflict cases in which judges have recused themselves.

According to the legislature earlier this year, the average workload per judge in the Griffin circuit is more than 2,400 cases each, which puts it in the top third tier of the state in terms of having higher than average caseloads.

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