Posted: Wednesday, March 10th 2010 at 10:03pm
Senator proposes cutting 19 superior court judges
By The Associated Press
ATLANTA - Sen. Mitch Seabaugh is proposing cutting 19 superior court judges - a move he says could save the state up to $14 million.
Seabaugh says S.B. 485 would reduce the number of superior court judges from 205 to 186.
Lawmakers have been hard-pressed to find further ways to cut costs to address Georgia's $1.1 billion budget shortfall. Seabaugh says the superior court system has not been carrying its weight during the state's budget crisis and has made far fewer cuts than many other departments.
The Sharpsburg Republican also pointed out that the state has added a few judges to the system each year since 2006 and that under the state constitution, the General Assembly can eliminate judgeships.
"I'm asking for input from the courts to ensure that the right judgeships are eliminated," Seabaugh said, adding that the proposal was not personal. "I do not want major interruptions in the court system."
Seabaugh, the lone sponsor of the bill, acknowledged that he faces an uphill battle, but he said the cuts are a viable solution given the volume of cases currently being handled by some jurisdictions.
According to data compiled by the Senate Research Office, Atlanta had the heaviest caseload in 2008, with 30,951 dockets filed - an average of 1,629 among its 19 judges. The jurisdiction would lose three judges under the proposal.
Rockdale had the smallest docket, with 3,177 cases filed between its two judges but would lose no judges under the proposal because jurisdictions with two judges were not considered for cuts.
"I've talked to my lawyer colleagues, and I've gotten a lot of caution on this," he said. "This will be different, and in no way am I not aware of the consequences."
Fulton County Superior Court Judge Melvin Westmoreland, the head of Georgia's Council of Superior Court Judges, called it "ridiculous."
"The likelihood of this getting any traction in the House is slim to none," he said. "It's mindboggling to me."
He said the most recent count of caseloads throughout the state, which was completed in 2008, showed a need for 275 Superior Court judges. Georgia has 205 judges, including three new positions allocated by state lawmakers last year. And the caseload is only growing amid the Great Recession, with more filings in child support cases, foreclosures and a range of other areas, he said.
"When the state is 70 judges short on the documented need, thinking that somehow cutting 19 is going to play a significant part in the billion-dollar budget shortfall just doesn't make any sense," he said.
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