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Judgeship in good shape to be funded

COVINGTON - A fifth judgeship for the Alcovy Judicial Circuit, which was approved by the General Assembly last year, is expected to be funded in the 2010 state fiscal year budget.

Gov. Sonny Perdue has until today to either cut the funding for the judgeship, an assistant district attorney and a public defender from the budget via a line-item veto or leave it in place.

The judgeship, which would be based in Newton County, was approved by the Legislature last year; however, funding was not appropriated until the 2009 General Assembly. Funding for new judgeships for the Brunswick and Atlanta judicial circuits was also approved by the Legislature this year.

Chief Superior Court Judge John Ott said annual funding of $236,905 has been appropriated for the Alcovy judgeship, which includes the judge's salary and benefits, a secretary's salary and benefits, and setup costs to cover office furniture and equipment.

"We are in a rapidly growing circuit population-wise, and the caseloads are becoming increasingly more crushing to us," Ott said. "You've got to somehow try to keep up with personnel to try to handle the increased caseload, and we qualified No. 1 in the state two years ago in terms of need. We've just had to tighten our belt in the last two years and try to overwork to compensate for the economy and the lack of ability to get a judge on board immediately."

Charlotte Parrish, budget director for the Prosecuting Attorneys' Council of Georgia, said she does not expect the governor to exercise a line-item veto on the appropriations for the assistant district attorneys.

"If the governor signs the appropriations bill, it's in there," Parrish said. "I think it would be difficult for him to line-item veto that. The legislation has already been passed creating those judgeships; it would be very difficult for them not to fund it."

Parrish said a total of $223,156 has been allocated for the three assistant district attorney positions, including a small amount of travel money.

"We have a sliding scale based on experience that determines what pay a person starts at," she said.

Perdue will appoint a judge to fill the Alcovy Circuit position once the appropriations bill is signed. In addition to Ott, the Alcovy Circuit is served by Judges Horace Johnson, Eugene Benton and Samuel Ozburn.

Alice Queen can be reached at alice.queen@rockdalecitizen.com.