Monday, January 28, 2008

01/18 - Perdue cooks up half loaf for Isles

Date: January 18, 2008
Section(s): Local News

The Brunswick News

The state budget proposed by Gov. Sonny Perdue is brimming with dollars for Jekyll Island but offers no relief for Glynn County's growing court caseload.

For Jekyll, Perdue is seeking $25 million for infrastructure and road improvements in his $21.4 billion fiscal year 2009 budget. For the five-county Brunswick Judicial Circuit, which includes Glynn and Camden counties, the budget offers nothing additional.

Ben Porter, chair of the board of the Jekyll Island Authority, said Perdue's recommendation of $25 million is a tremendous boost for the authority's revitalization plans and development.

"The bonds will be used to fund design and construction of public infrastructure improvements on Jekyll Island, critical elements in the revitalization of the island," Porter said.

"We appreciate the governor's strong vote of confidence in the authority's plans to improve and enhance the 'Jekyll experience' for all Georgians."

For the Brunswick Judicial Circuit, Perdue's budget is a disappointment, but not a shock, District Attorney Stephen Kelley said Thursday.

The budget includes funding for additional judges in three judicial circuits - Cordele, Enotah and Gwinnett - but not Brunswick. In addition to Glynn and Camden counties, the circuit includes Wayne, Appling and Jeff Davis counties.

"It's not devastating because I knew it was a long shot that we would get a judge," said Kelley. "If we had been in the top three I would have had my hopes up."

The Georgia Judicial Council had ranked the Brunswick Circuit fifth in need of a new judge.

The governor submitted his budget proposal to lawmakers Wednesday after his State of the State message.

Kelley said a fifth judgeship would have helped his office manage its caseload of 3,000 cases because the state would have also assigned a new assistant district attorney and assistant public defender to the circuit. He said adding one more assistant district attorney to the 15 he already has would help with the deluge of circuit-wide felony cases this year.

There were 19 homicides in Glynn County in 2007.

There still may be some hope. Rep. Roger Lane, R-Darien, said the proposal is not final and the recommendation from the Judicial Council of Georgia is not binding. He said the legislature could be convinced to move Brunswick up on the council's list while the General Assembly is in session.

"Brunswick has several unique situations which we will argue should be considered next week during budget hearings," said Lane, who serves on the House Judiciary Committee.

These include the circuit's Drug Court, headed by Superior Court Judge Amanda Williams, and the lack of a State Court in Camden County. Cases from Camden that would normally be tried in State Court must go before Superior Court judges in the Brunswick Circuit.

"I will absolutely be fighting adamantly (for a judgeship) because our caseload is beyond the need for a fifth judge," said Lane.

Kelley doesn't think the prospect looks very promising.

"The way the state goes about apportioning judicial resources doesn't make sense anymore," he said. "They only look at caseloads, but not at things like population demographics, crime stats and things of that nature. I don't think the state legislators get a true picture of what the needs really are statewide.

"The whole system needs to be looked at."

No comments: