Augusta, Ga (WJBF)- The Augusta Judicial Circuit may get a new superior court judge before the end of the year. It’s all thanks to a bipartisan senate bill in the hopper in the General Assembly that would add a new judge’s seat.
NewsChannel 6 spoke with Senator Harold Jones, one of the sponsors of bipartisan bill SB:5 that would allow funding for Governor Brian Kemp to appoint a new judge this year. He said the sitting superior court judges have a case load of nearly 1,800 and they need immediate help.
“We’re already approved. The need is there, it’s just how we usually fund is we do three. So, that would mean that next year we would pretty much be in line to receive the funding. That wouldn’t be an issue. The problem is, of course, that we need a judge now,” explained Senator Jones.
Each year, Georgia funds 3 new judgeships where they are needed. Augusta’s turn isn’t until next year. But Senator Jones and Republican Max Burns co-sponsored a bill asking for the funding this year.
“We have five judges who are responsible right now by the judicial workload study for about 1,780 cases. That’s their average. Also though, even bigger than that is, Augusta Judicial circuit, the current circuit, as far as serious violent felonies are concerned, serious felonies are concerned, which would be something like murder, rape, and your robbery, your burglary- we’re actually third on that list,” Jones said.
Superior Court Judge Ashley Wright said that when Columbia County split from Richmond County, it impacted their case load creating a backlog.
“When we- the circuit split, what we absorbed were all of the other felonies that had previously been assigned to some of the other judges who had to go to Columbia County,” she said. “And now our case counts have gone from where they were averaging in the 500’s to the upper 600’s. And part of that is due, a little bit due to the back log. Part of that is due to the epidemic of violence that we’re having in our community unfortunately.”
Judge Wright explained the backlog created by the split and the pandemic has created problems for defendants as well.
“And we tried to get as many people out as we could out without causing significant community safety. And part of that was to prevent the pandemic from roaring through the jail. And part of that was that we knew that waiting in jail for up to 2 to 3 years for your case to be heard when your sentence might not be that long just wasn’t a good balance and was not appropriate,” said Wright.
If the bill is passed, it would go into effect July 1, 2023. Senator Jones hopes a new judge will be taking cases by fall.
Photojournalist: Will Baker.