Sep. 3—ALBANY — Local legislators say they will support efforts by the Dougherty Judicial Circuit to secure a fourth judge to handle a massive backlog of cases.
This week Chief Judge Willie Lockette described how dire the situation is during an appearance before the Dougherty County Commission.. The judge told commissioners that there are 10,000 felony cases awaiting disposition, of which 2,500 involve defendants accused of serious violent crimes including murder, aggravated child molestation, rape and armed robbery.
"Judge Lockette made a request to me to go ahead and get the process going," state Rep. Gerald Greene, R-Cuthbert, who wrote a letter of support asked for by the judge, said. "What we've done is we've checked to see if we qualify for that judgeship. They are doing an incredible job, under the circumstances. Even with COVID, they have delivered. The workload has been tremendous."
The question of whether Dougherty County is deserving seems to be a simple one to answer.
During an interview with The Herald two weeks ago, Brian Rickman, the chief judge for the Georgia Court of Appeals, said that the judges in the circuit are doing work equivalent to nearly two judges each.
Dougherty judges' workload is the highest among the state's court circuits, he said, placing the circuit at the top of the list in terms of need.
Greene said he would work to gain approval from the General Assembly. The numbers presented by Lockette are concerning and show the need for the position, he noted.
"It will be my row (job) to get funding and Sen. (Freddie Powell) Sims' row," he said, referring to the Dawson Democratic senator. "I sent a letter of support to Judge Lockette. They certainly have my support, and as a member of the Appropriations Committee it's going to be important for me to have a front-row seat on these things and also public safety. I'm really proud to help them any way I can."
During his presentation to county commissioners, Lockette said that some 175 inmates awaiting their day in court on some of the more serious crimes have been jailed for two years at a cost of $6 million to house them.
Sims also said she was onboard on the issue.
"I think Judge Lockette laid out a very good argument, and I support him," she said. "We need the right individuals to take care of the legal concerns of our constituents. We're going to have to figure out a way to get it (funding) done."