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Rockdale BOC ponders rise in court costs

CONYERS -- An increase in court days is putting a strain on some Rockdale County departments' budgets.

Superior Court Judge Sidney Nation may be increasing the number of criminal cases heard from 10 weeks to 20 weeks in 2012. Civil cases will be decreased by four weeks.

Lillie Nelson, chief deputy clerk, said the Clerk of Superior and State Courts would be unable to return their budget to the 2010 numbers because of Judge Nation's request.

"We're stretched to the limits as is, but we could have made do with what we had (before the request)," Nelson said.

Instead, the Clerk of Courts is requesting two additional clerks to help aid in the change in the Superior Court schedule -- one to work as a general clerk and the other to help prepare for court cases.

"He's adding 10 weeks of court out of 52 weeks in the year, and you're asking for a full-time employee to prepare?" Commissioner JaNice Van Ness said.

Nelson said the amount of work required to prepare for the cases would necessitate a full-time rather than a part-time employee.

"We have got one employee right now that is doing it for two weeks of the month and she is barely doing as it is," Nelson said. "Now, we're proposing to have jury trials four weeks out of the month."

The preparation for criminal court is 31 manpower hours to prepare for two weeks of trial, according to Nelson. In addition, a clerk must also complete reporting duties.

"A part-time employee may put a small bandage on the situation, but the work is still there, and you're still getting further and further behind," Nelson said.

Nation said the county would save money by getting people out of jail, according to Commissioner Oz Nesbitt. However, he said the financial benefits will not be visible until at least nine months later, if they occur at all.

"I'm not convinced we're going to see a decrease in the number of inmates," Sheriff Jeff Wigington said.

The sheriff's department is requesting additional deputies to help aid in the proposed court schedule. Wigington said they were requesting two deputies for the court, and two deputies to provide transport from the jail to the court.

Nesbitt said Nation planned to move forward and the BOC would have to figure out where to find the money to facilitate requests from the effected auxiliary departments.

"The judge has decided what he wants to do and it happens to be at a very tough economic time for this county," Nesbitt said. "We have some serious thinking to do as we consider the judge's desire because he's bored and he wants to let some of these people go."

Nation proposed in August to add more criminal trial dates to the Superior Court calendar to relieve a backlog in serious criminal cases. Also, jury trials were not held in May and June while the county's Jury Commission updated the jury pools to reflect 2010 U.S. Census results, further delaying cases to be heard.

Nation said processing more of the lesser criminal cases can help get people awaiting trial out of the county jail.