Judges ask to boost numbers

DULUTH - Even with the addition of a new Superior Court judge in January, judges said they need yet another person behind the bench to keep up with the growth in cases in Gwinnett County.

Judges from the county's Superior, State and Magistrate Court benches appealed to legislatures Tuesday for help in adding numbers this year.

The first on the wish list is another State Court judge.

Court Administrator Phil Boudewyns said a recent study from the Council of State Court judges concluded the county should have nine people on the bench in the suburban county, but only five judges are now working for the court.

Since 1995, court filings have more than doubled in that jurisdiction, he said, and the 140,000 citizens per judge statistic is nearly double the state average of 80,000 citizens per judge.

"We are in dire need of judges," Chief State Court Judge Robert Mock said.

During last year's legislative session, the county's delegation was able to secure an additional Superior Court judge, but officials said there is a need for a 10th judge as well.

Judge Billy Ray, a former legislator himself, said the staff of a recommending council listed Gwinnett as the third county in most need of another judge, but after the council voted, the county was moved to No. 8.

"A lot of it is just politics," Ray said, pointing out that the governor's and the House speaker's home counties came ahead of Gwinnett's on the list. "The fact we got one last year entered on their minds."

Ray said the judges may ask the legislators in the coming years to fight for another Superior Court judge, but for now they are simply asking the decision-makers to secure the additional State Court judge.

That addition could help lighten the load in both courts because they can consider similar civil cases.

Judges also asked the legislators to carefully consider a proposed sex offender law because of the ramifications.

Ray said he opposed mandatory minimums because it impairs the ability of the court to enter into plea bargains and avoid trials in cases that aren't strong.

"It is harder to win child molestation cases than murder cases," said Tom Davis, a county prosecutor who will be sworn in as the new Superior Court judge at the end of the year. "If our flexibility is impaired, there are going to be some miscarriages of the law."