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Cuts hit judicial system

CONYERS -- It is still unclear as to how state and local budget cuts will affect the local judicial system, but Rockdale County officials said the standard of public service will be maintained and justice will be served.

"I've been able to make it work this year, barely," said Probate Court Judge Lillis Brown. "I think it will be barely again this (next) year."

Brown, whose office handles civil matters like marriages, estates and temporary guardianships, said there have been shortages in office supplies and in funding for mental health assessments.

"It's tough, but it's not like we haven't had some understanding that this was coming," Brown said, referencing cuts in state funding.

But courts are also bound by law to provide certain services, said Brown, and cutbacks will have to be made in areas that are "not absolutely critical."

"One thing I will say: We're going to do our job," said District Attorney Richard Read.

Read acknowledged public concern around the state that cuts to the judicial system could negatively affect court processes, possibly resulting in stalled cases.

"I hear all that, but I have no intention of shutting down the court office ... I have no intention of letting criminals victimize the people of Rockdale County," Read said.

The District Attorney's Office will continue to push cases as quickly as it can and hold people accountable for their actions, Read said.

But he noted that state-mandated furloughs may be a challenge.

State employees have already been subject to furlough days -- about 17 unpaid work days -- since the state mandate late last year.

With the permission of the past and current Board of Commissioners chairmen, Read has been able to use drug forfeiture funds to pay state employees in his office and avoid some furloughs.

But criminals don't take furlough days, according to Read, and "those people can't just languish in the jail."

"We're a part of public safety, just as much as law enforcement and fire and EMTs," Read said.

Every part of the judicial system is necessary to make sure criminals are punished and justice is done for victims, Read said.

Chief Superior Court Judge Sidney Nation said he has already taken three furlough days this year.

"And I look for that to increase, possibly five or eight days next year," Nation said. "But what's been happening is we're just trying to work a little harder ... we make do with what we've got."

Considering the state legislative session next year, there is still some uncertainty in determining how the courts will be impacted in the budget process.

"So far, we're still current with everything," Nation said.

Officials are also still awaiting the county's final budget.

While it would be nice to have more office staff and replacements for 10-year-old vehicles, Read said he recognized current economic restraints.

"I've always attempted to be very frugal in utilizing and spending taxpayer funds," Read said.

But Read said the vast majority of his county budget is related to personnel.

"So there's very little to cut in my office without cutting people," Read said.

"I think it's going to be a tough, tough year," Nation said.