Sugar Hill to adopt rules for court

SUGAR HILL — Sugar Hill Municipal Court has operated for much of the city’s existence since 1939.

As of next week, it will be in a slightly more regimented way.

Sugar Hill’s City Council at its monthly work session Monday discussed adoption of uniform rules recently required by the state Supreme Court, designed to standardize municipal court proceedings. Gwinnett’s fourth largest city plans to vote the rules into effect as part of its consent agenda at its monthly public meeting Monday.

Mayor Gary Pirkle and council members had several questions at the work session for City Attorney Lee Thompson, who said the uniform rules won’t make much difference. Thompson said the rules will only formalize processes that previously haven’t been. In effect, he said, adoption of the rules is little more than public notice that the city is aware of them.

Thompson said the standardized rules will change little in a court as small as Sugar Hill’s, which typically handles zoning violations, property maintenance and soil erosion citations, etc. He said the rules might make a bigger difference in larger municipal courts like Duluth’s or Lawrenceville’s, or those handling traffic violations, shoplifting, minor drug offenses, etc.

Sugar Hill Municipal Court, run by Judge Margaret Washburn, typically meets only monthly, an increase from the every three months Thompson recalls when he became city attorney in 1983.

Thompson said one of the biggest changes will be the requirement that all proceedings be recorded. That means Sugar Hill will have to make at least audio recordings of all proceedings. Previously, the city recorded only those proceedings requested.

Interestingly, Thompson, who also is city attorney in Duluth and Grayson, said he just recently became aware that standard rules were to be adopted.

“We received no notification this had been done (by the state Supreme Court),” he said. “We somewhat stumbled across it while doing something for another city, actually.”

Thompson said the state Supreme Court wants uniformity in municipal courts statewide. He said common rules have long existed for superior and state courts, but previously not municipal courts.

“The Supreme Court wants municipal courts operating on a standard set of rules,” he said. “We’ve been doing pretty much that anyway.”