Wynne might have to wait to become judge

COVINGTON -- Due to the state budget crunch, District Attorney Ken Wynne may not be sworn in as Superior Court judge until July, the beginning of the state's fiscal year.

"There have been discussions as to whether it would make more sense to wait until the fiscal year begins in July," said Chris Schrimpf, press secretary to Gov. Sonny Perdue, adding that all judicial appointments recently made by the governor are in a holding pattern. "Everyone recognizes the difficult budget situation the courts are facing. There are discussions of whether it would be easier to plan for the beginning of the fiscal year or make those fiscal reductions now."

In addition to the judge's salary and benefits, a secretary's salary and benefits and setup costs to cover office furniture and equipment are being funded by the state. Also, by law, assistant district attorney and assistant public defender positions must be created for each judgeship.

Schrimpf said no final decision has been made on when the swearing-in will take place. Wynne was appointed by Perdue to fill the newly created fifth judgeship in the Alcovy Judicial Circuit in December.

Wynne said he has been contacted by the governor's office and is amenable to waiting until July.

"Due to the tight state budget, they are wanting to avoid a potential fiscal crisis like they had last year. They asked me if I had any objection, and I certainly had no objection. That allows more time to transition, to turn things over to Chief Assistant District Attorney Layla Zon. That's not a bad thing," said Wynne, who will remain district attorney until sworn in as judge.

Alcovy Circuit Chief Judge John M. Ott said Senior Judge Marvin Sorrells will continue to serve as the fifth judge until Wynne is sworn in. The fifth judge was originally supposed to be appointed by July 1 but the governor's appointment was delayed by the resignation of Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears.

"The governor was going to select the Supreme Court justice before the Superior Court judges," Ott said.

"The state judge's organization had already budgeted for the judge in 2009 and all the support staff. When that didn't get done in July 2009, we went ahead and got the OK to utilize those funds to pay a senior judge to come in and sit in the fifth judgeship ... He does it on a part-time basis, but he's built up a full caseload," Ott said.

Asked whether another delay could create additional strain, Ott replied, "That's a little like asking the emergency room of a hospital if they foresee any problems if a doctor doesn't show up for his shift. They just have to do; there's no alternative. We're doing the best we can, and we're fortunate to have Judge Sorrells be able to step up. The whole situation has put a load and stress on the system itself, but the people we've got working right now in the public defender's office, the district attorney's office and the court system are doing a marvelous job and we're doing the best we can to make it palatable."