COLUMBIA COUNTY, Ga. (WJBF) — 151 years after the Augusta Judicial Circuit was formed, Columbia County is splitting off. Gov. Brian Kemp approved Senate Bill 9 Thursday, allowing the county to form its own judicial system.
“We’re just thankful for Sen. Lee Anderson for sponsoring the legislation, Rep. Mark Newton for carrying it in the house, and, of course, Gov. Kemp for signing it today,” Doug Duncan, the chairman of the Columbia County Board of Commissioners, says.
In December, the county’s Board of Commissioners proposed a resolution to form a single-county judicial circuit, arguing it could save taxpayers up to $1 million a year. Duncan tells NewsChannel 6 the savings “was the only reason” he supported the proposal.
The county faced pushback. Chief Superior Court Judge Carl Brown formed the Committee to Preserve the Augusta Judiciary Circuit, arguing Richmond, Columbia and Burke Counties needed to remain united because “there’s strength in unity and numbers.” District Attorney Jared Williams suggested the timing was suspicious as the resolution was proposed less than a month after he was elected. However, state lawmakers, including Rep. Mark Newton, fought for Columbia County as the resolution made its way through the Legislature.
“We’re not going to let crime get a foothold here,” Newton says. “I think the teams will work together for what’s best for each of our communities because, as we see, that’s what works together to decrease crime in our area.”
The work now begins for Columbia County. It has less than four months to split its assets and cases with the Augusta Judicial Circuit. Judges J. Wade Padgett, Sheryl Jolly and James Blanchard will leave the Augusta Circuit to take their places in Columbia County. Kemp will appoint a district attorney, who will take office when the circuit begins operating on July 1.
“The district attorney will be appointed,” Duncan explains. “They’ll do the hiring for their office. Jim Blanchard will be the Chief Judge of the district. He’ll work with the county managers and the commission to staff” the judicial offices.