Judge puts the brakes on Columbia County Judicial split


AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – The new Columbia County Judicial Circuit is supposed to open for business on July 1, but those plans are paused.

“This was not what we were expecting,” said Augusta attorney Willie Saunders.

Saunders’ fight to stop the split of the Augusta Judicial Circuit is on hold, at least for the time being. He filed a civil lawsuit claiming the Augusta judicial split is unconstitutional.

He said, “We try to work through it and I think that’s what the judge is trying to do in this matter.”

Senior Judge of Georgia superior courts Gail Tusan ordered Tuesday a temporary restraining order to stop the split. Under the ruling, all activities surrounding the split are to cease immediately.

“A determination will eventually be made as to whether she remains on this case or if another judge needs to be appointed,” said Saunders.

Tuesday’s ruling comes after Burke County attorney Barry Fleming made a motion that Judge Tusan recuse herself from the judicial split case. Tusan is being represented by an assistant attorney general in another legal matter in the Atlanta area.

Saunders explained, “We’ll have to take up this issue of recusal of the judge first. It doesn’t necessarily mean that there will be another judge. There’s a process that we use to do that.”

Tusan was appointed to hear the civil lawsuit Saunders filed against Governor Brian Kemp and county governments in the Augusta Judicial Circuit. The planned split disenfranchised voters and violates several laws according to Saunders.

He added, “The law as it is drafted stands to nullify quite a few votes in Columbia County.”

As written, the temporary restraining order is to last 30 days, or if issues are resolved earlier things can move forward. A new hearing will have to be scheduled to consider Fleming’s request of Judge Tusan’s recusal.

We will keep you updated with the latest as this story develops.

COLUMBIA COUNTY, Ga. (WJBF) – In a hearing this morning, Richmond County Superior Court Senior Judge Gail Tusan, ordered all activities surrounding the split to cease immediately.

The order was issued because, according to Judge Tusan, there are several preliminary matters that must be taken care of before the judicial proceedings can continue.

One such matter, a motion filed by Burke County attorney, Barry Fleming, calling for Judge Tusan to recuse herself from the judicial split case. According to the court documents, Judge Tusan’s court is currently being represented by the Georgia Attorney General’s Office in an unrelated matter. Judge Tusan recused herself two hours after filing a temporary restraining order against further movement on Senate bill 9.

Fleming’s motion indicates, that representation is a conflict of interest because the judicial split was signed by Georgia Governor Brian Kemp in Senate Bill 9.

Columbia County filed with the state a request to separate itself from the Richmond County Judicial Circuit stating, it would save Columbia County tax payer money. The resulting Richmond County Judicial Circuit would only cover Augusta-Richmond County and Burke Counties.

Financially, the split goes from the 3 counties sharing the burden to now just 2 which could increase the cost and possibly put a financial strain on the much smaller and less populated Burke County.

Tusan was appointed to the case after local Attorney Willie Saunders filed a lawsuit to stop the split back in May.

That split, which allows Columbia County to create its own judicial circuit, was set to take effect July 1st. But a new hearing will have to be held to consider Fleming’s request.