Faced with a growing case load, Bibb County State Court is expected to soon have a second full-time judge.
After Judge J. Taylor Phillips death last June, State Court Judge William P. Adams told county commissioners he needed full-time help. Phillips had been working part-time, hearing both civil and criminal cases.
Georgia legislators are working on a bill to formally create the new judgeship, which is expected to pass by April.
After passage, the governor will appoint the new judge, who will serve a term starting July 1 and ending Dec. 31, 2014. After the first term, a judge must be elected for a four-year term, according to the legislation.
Using data for cases handled between 2004 and 2011, a workload assessment performed in 2012 by the Council of State Court Judges shows Bibb County has enough work for 2.22 full-time judges.
Solicitor Rebecca Grist said State Court has a backlog of more than 800 DUI cases.
DUI cases are very complicated. You have a lot of motions hearings. Theyre very time-consuming, she said.
Grist said the backlog dates back to when Phillips was on the bench part-time.
We were already getting stretched thin, she said. We didnt realize the magnitude of it until after Phillips death, she said.
The number of cases passing through State Court, located on the top floor of the Bibb County Courthouse, is only expected to increase due to more theft and shoplifting cases being prosecuted as misdemeanors since the Georgia Criminal Justice Reform Act went into effect in July.
Prior to the reform act, thefts of more than $500 were considered felonies. Now the cap is $1,500.
Shoplifting cases of more than $300 also were prosecuted as felonies. Now the cap is $500, Grist said.
The uptick in cases started in October.
Grist estimates the reform act will end up shifting between 2,000 and 2,500 cases from the district attorneys office to her office.
The final blueprint hasnt been finalized for how Macons Municipal Court and Bibb County State Court will operate under consolidation. But its clear that the misdemeanor cases -- mainly DUIs and shopliftings -- currently being heard in Municipal Court will move to State Court beginning Jan. 1, Grist said.
With a new judge staffing a second courtroom -- and the projected heavier case load from consolidation and the reform act -- Grist said shell need additional staff.
She has requested budgetary permission from county commissioners to hire another two assistant solicitors, an investigator, a legal secretary and a victim witness liaison. Her hope is that the new hires will be on the job by July 1, when the new judge is scheduled to start work.
Grist said State Court generated more than $2.3 million in revenue during the last fiscal year from criminal and civil cases.
After consolidation, one Macon city attorney will move to the solicitors office to help prosecute misdemeanors, Grist said.
Bibbs new judge is the only State Court judgeship proposed in the state Legislature so far this year.
Writer Maggie Lee contributed to this report. To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398.