AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – Work is underway to have Columbia County’s new judicial circuit ready to go on the first of July.
“When the coach calls your number you come off the bench and you execute,” said Bobby Christine.
Christine, a former United States Attorney, is ready to get to work in Columbia County. Governor Brian Kemp appointed Christine as district attorney for the newly formed circuit.
Christine said, “I was flattered of course but it’s a challenging mission he’s given us but we’re going to get after it.”
A lawsuit filed on behalf of local attorney Willie Saunders is making its way through superior court that asserts the split of the Augusta Judicial Circuit is unconstitutional. Governor Kemp signed Senate Bill nine into law in late March to make the judicial split possible.
“The only reason why this is all occurring is because we elected in this circuit the first African-American DA. You’re not going to get to believe anything differently,” said Saunders.
Williams earned a little over 30 percent of the vote in Columbia County during the District Attorney race in 2020 according to Saunders.
Saunders says he thinks nothing but the best of Christine and the complaint has nothing to do with Christine’s appointment.
He explained, “Senate Bill nine as it is currently constructed, in essence, nullifies the votes of those people who were in Columbia County who voted for the current DA Jared Williams. When you nullify a person’s vote, you don’t get an option, there is no mechanism in the law for you to challenge that.”
“Prosecutors are not legislatures. Legislatures created this judicial circuit and we won’t stray out of our lanes to participate in discussions quite frankly we don’t have authority over. Nor should we be seen by the public as partisan one way or the other with regard to those sorts of things,” said Christine.
While leaders in Columbia County report the judicial split will save the county about $1 million, the lawsuit states the county is receiving more than $2 million in state funds to get the new circuit up and running. Saunders believes that’s unfair.
He said, “Starting a new circuit with basically nothing because the law doesn’t authorize him to hire anybody ahead of time. The law doesn’t authorize anything really. It doesn’t authorize him to set up an office. It just doesn’t.”
The state did have to put money in the budget for salaries in the newly formed judicial district and the county does have the ability to supplement those salaries according to Columbia County Manager Scott Johnson.
“We have to spool up and create an office so organization is the first mission. To organize an office within the parameters within the resources made available by the state and the county and then execute. And as you identified, that will require soliciting, receiving applications, going through an appropriate vetting process, and staffing an office all that is yet to be done,” said Christine.
Christine can’t offer jobs yet but he says former District Attorney Natalie Paine is willing to work in the new judicial circuit. As for the lawsuit, a lawyer for Saunders says it is not likely to be heard by any current Augusta Judicial Circuit Superior Court judge but from an outsider.