Judge labors over 'speedy trials'

When Judge James G. Blanchard Jr. realized earlier this month that the clock was ticking to get a couple dozen criminal defendants tried or face the mandatory dismissal of the cases -- which included everything from drugs to murder -- he went into a full court press.

The Richmond County Superior Court judge commandeered a courtroom and got another judge to help him try cases. By week's end, attorneys had tried one case before a jury and worked out all but two or three of the others.

The judge kept at it, however, trying to whittle the work load. On Saturday while others slept late or attended to household chores, Judge Blanchard and attorneys with pending motions in his cases were working. He also informed attorneys that any more unresolved motions in cases set for trial next week will be dealt with at 5 a.m. Oct. 27.

"Judge Blanchard is marching, and we're following," said Assistant District Attorney Geoffrey Fogus, the lead prosecutor assigned to the judge's court.

Last week, the judge said, he had been shocked to see how many of his assigned cases with motions for speedy trial had been filed since July. From the date such a demand is filed, the case must be tried within two terms of court -- in Richmond County that's about 20 weeks -- or the case is dismissed.

Augusta Judicial Circuit Public Defender Sam B. Sibley Jr. said there are a number of reasons for filing a speedy demand for a client, starting with innocence.

"Imagine, if you can, sitting in jail, unable to make bond and you are telling your lawyer 'I am innocent. I want a trial,' " Mr. Sibley said.

The individual cases are tagged by the clerks' office and by the prosecutors, but normally the cases are not grouped together as Judge Blanchard did earlier this month.

Two of the speedy trial demand cases before the judge are murder cases.

Theodore Sharp and Celisa Hamilton are accused of murder in the June 9 deaths of Herman M. Cadle, 51, and Freeman Lawrence, 59.

Mr. Fogus said the speedy trial demands filed on behalf of Ms. Hamilton and Mr. Sharp mean the clock runs out at the end of the year.

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

TRIAL DEMANDS

According to the Richmond County Superior Court Clerk's records, speedy trial demands were filed this years in 16 cases before Judge James G. Blanchard Jr. The other four Superior Court judges who preside over criminal cases only have six speedy trial demand cases total.