Changes ahead in courts

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Change is coming to the Augusta Judicial Circuit, the first in decades.

Incoming Chief Judge J. Carlisle Overstreet said the judges recognize the need for diversity in the courtroom.  Andrew Davis Tucker/Staff
Andrew Davis Tucker/Staff
Incoming Chief Judge J. Carlisle Overstreet said the judges recognize the need for diversity in the courtroom.

One of the first changes the Superior Court judges will initiate is filling the juvenile court judge's position in Richmond County that has been vacant since Judge Herbert Kernighan Jr. died.

The judges are contemplating asking two or more attorneys to serve part time instead of choosing just one. And for the first time, those with business in the court might see a woman or a black judge on the bench.

In a recent interview with Chronicle editors, incoming Chief Judge J. Carlisle Overstreet said the Superior Court judges, who decide who fills the four-year juvenile judgeships, acknowledge the need for diversity in the job. The judges have always been older, white men in the past.

All applications were due Friday, Judge Overstreet said.

Another change some would like to see realized in the Augusta circuit is the creation of drug courts. Instead of sentencing drug offenders to prison or probation to succeed or fail on their own, drug courts closely supervise defendants and provide intensive treatment and counseling, and drug testing.

It would require a commitment of the judges and someone would have to supervise, Judge Overstreet said.

He estimated that drugs are responsible for the majority of criminal cases: people using or selling drugs, stealing or otherwise committing crimes to buy drugs, or committing crimes while under the influence of drugs.

"You've got to try something," Judge Overstreet said.

How the judges conduct business in Superior Court also could change. Judge Overstreet said case management, not case assignment, needs overhauling.

"We just have to get on into the 21st century," he said.

He said he hopes the court clerks' current computer program can be updated to include case management.

Right now the judges have only a manual system of hauling cases from the entry point of arraignment to conclusion, Judge Overstreet said.

That wasn't difficult when the circuit was small, but it's now nearly impossible with the thousands of cases in the system.

The eight Superior Court judges also will vote on the local rules of court this spring. These rules spell out how the judges divide and assign cases.

Currently, the five judges with the most seniority are assigned to preside over civil and criminal cases. The three remaining judges are responsible for domestic cases such as divorce and child custody.

One of the biggest changes already discussed is mediation - Alternative Dispute Resolution - for domestic court cases.

In a meeting Thursday with Richmond County officials, several judges outlined their plans.

Judge Overstreet said he signed the documents earlier this month that join the Augusta circuit with the surrounding 10th Judicial District's program.

People filing for divorce will go through the mediation process, which can be faster and cheaper than the current judicial procedure.

It should make the process less adversarial and reduce the caseloads of judges, Judge Overstreet said.

Judge Duncan D. Wheale said courts in Athens have been using mediation successfully for about 10 years.

The use of mediation might also be expanded to civil cases. Judge James G. Blanchard said it could be especially helpful to resolve cases that have been pending several years. That often happens because the parties can neither reach a settlement nor justify the expense of trial. The case stalemates, he said.

It is also difficult for complex civil cases to get to trial because of limited courtroom space, Judge Overstreet said. Richmond and Columbia counties have only two courtrooms, and Burke County has one.

Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226 or sandy.hodson@augustachronicle.com.

CHANGES

Possible changes for the Augusta Judicial Circuit:

- Fill vacant juvenile court judge position

- Creation of drug courts

- Overhaul of case management with new software for court clerks' computers

- Vote on local rules of court

- Implementing mediation for domestic court cases and possibly civil cases

Comments (6) Add comment
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AugustaVoter
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AugustaVoter 01/15/07 - 07:53 am
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We need a Juvenile Judge or

We need a Juvenile Judge or Judges that will actually be HARD on juvenile offenders! Lock them up or send them to youth camps! Not sentence them to more probation and put them right back on the street so they can do whatever the next day!

mgroothand
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mgroothand 01/15/07 - 09:06 am
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Arbitration, binding or

Arbitration, binding or otherwise, and Mediation are about as welcome as Pro-Bono work by the Augusta Bar Association.

amazedaugustan
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amazedaugustan 01/15/07 - 09:51 am
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IF ONLY the judges would

IF ONLY the judges would ENFORCE the law to begin with, AND wouldn't it be great if we had boot camp instead of jail for some crimes like DEAD BEAT PARENTS not paying child support. Every time they let one walk out the door for the 50th time the child continues to do without.............The dead beat laughs and the child cries................

mable8
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mable8 01/15/07 - 04:36 pm
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curiousann: Any law that

curiousann: Any law that puts "dead beat parents" in a jail cell is stupid to begin with. Once you have placed the offending parent in a cell, the person loses their job and the taxpayer picks up the burden anyway. You don't hear the other side of the story, either. Some "dead beat parents" are so ill they cannot work and too many of them are on the lowest end of the pay scale, they can't even afford to pay their own room and board. If the custodial parent can prove that the offending parent has the funds to pay the child support, then those monies can be attached in some legal fashion. Before you condemn others, look on the other side of the fence. Granted, there will always be the losers in any society, but jailing all for social problems does not resolve the problem. You might also want to know why some of the custodial parents are so greedy and vindictive; it took two to create a family and some ex-partners are just downright nasty. There are a good many non-custodial parents that cannot pay the child support; and they are not laughing either. Be careful of whom you condemn, you may be on the outside looking in one day.

SaraEmigMeyers
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SaraEmigMeyers 01/15/07 - 10:07 pm
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A drug court is a great idea!

A drug court is a great idea! Something needs to be done to help keep people off drugs and drug courts have been successful in other places.

amazedaugustan
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amazedaugustan 01/16/07 - 12:13 am
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mable8 As I re-read my

mable8
As I re-read my statement after reading your response, it is clear that you misunderstood what my point was. And it's obvious we have not walked in each other shoes. My dictionary defines deadbeat...as.. deliberately avoiding debt, lazy, slothful. Not once did I refer to the others in your response. And yes jail for some will work, until a better system like bootcamp becomes available. And send a man to jail who is working? Please....... ENFORCE THE ALREADY WRITTEN LAW, QUICKLY... while he/she is working!! If you though I was condemning the person, again you did not understand my statement. I am condemning the system that KNOWINGLY does not work.

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