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Troup County asks state to look at changes to Coweta Judicial Circuit

For more than a decade, Troup County’s board of commissioners has been eyeing a split to the Coweta Judicial Circuit, and on Tuesday, the board voted to take the next step to make the split possible.

The Troup County Board of Commissioners voted 4-0 on a request to ask the state to split the judicial circuit. The resolution points to high caseload as one of the top reasons for the request to split the circuit, which was originally established as the Tallapoosa Judicial Circuit in 1869. The resolution lays out some of the changes that the circuit has undergone, including major population growth within the counties.

“Presently, the Coweta Judicial Circuit encompasses Coweta County, Meriwether County, Heard County, Troup County and Carroll County,” County Attorney Jerry Willis said. “This resolution — because of a number of reasons referred to in the resolution — would authorize this county to take to the legislature the resolution and let them consider splitting the judicial circuit into two circuits. One circuit [would] encompass Coweta County, Meriwether County and Troup County. The other circuit [would] encompass Carroll County and Heard County.”

The Judicial Council completed a Circuit Boundry Study in 2014, and the study ranked the Coweta Judicial Circuit as seventh in the state in caseload filings per judge and second in the state in caseload filings among circuits with more than six judgeships. The county’s request will encourage state legislators to review and update that information before making a decision.

“They provided a couple options in 2014 [when a study was done],” Assistant County Manager Eric Mosley said. “I think what we really want is just for them to take a look at the study, update that study with new demographics and new judicial analysis and then provide us with a recommendation moving forward. I have spoken both with the sheriff and the clerk of court and with the DA’s office. All three fully support this resolution moving forward.”

Sherriff James Woodruff was in attendance at the meeting and was able to speak on the proposed judicial circuit split on Tuesday.

“We totally agree with the split because of the caseload,” Woodruff said. “The judicial circuit is the second biggest in the whole state. I think the only bigger one is a metro county that encompasses one county, so you can see the need there to split it because the caseload is almost unmanageable. Also, many times we don’t have a local judge in Troup County, and I’ve had to send deputies to Carroll County, to Coweta County and take them out of our county to go get an order signed and bring it back to serve somebody. That would hopefully put a judge here for us and make things go a lot smoother and a lot quicker.”

Herb Cranford, the district attorney for the Coweta Judicial Circuit, was unable to attend the county commission meeting on Tuesday, but he said that he has been asked about a possible split repeatedly since taking office in February.

“At this point, I feel like I’ve looked into it enough to be able to say that I think in the long run, it is in the best interest of all the citizens and the communities in this five county circuit for the circuit to be split,” Cranford said.

“I leave it to the legislatures and others to say which counties should stay and which counties should be in a new circuit.”

Cranford admitted that it would probably be easier for him to remain in office in a five-county circuit, but he said that he still believed that the split would be good for the counties because of what it would mean for state sponsored staffing of the circuits.

“According to Georgia law, each circuit is entitled to certain state paid personnel, meaning the DA’s office for each circuit is entitled to certain state paid personnel such as certain assistant DAs,” Cranford said. “Each circuit gets an investigator. Each circuit gets two legal assistants, so any split to the circuit would increase the number of personnel in the DA’s offices that are left over, and therefore save the counties money. I think that is the primary reason. It provides more DA personnel to these communities without costing the county taxpayers any more money.”

Cranford requested funding for additional staff from Troup County to cover the high caseload in the circuit earlier this year, and in previous years former District Attorney Pete Skandalakis requested funds for the same purpose. Troup County has struggled to find additional funds for the office. The Coweta Judicial Circuit has the fourth highest felony caseload in the State of Georgia based on the 2016 Superior Court Workload Assessment, with an average annual felony caseload from 2014 to 2016 of 3,721 cases.

“We are now the second largest circuit in cases heard, so we have a lot of justification to do this because the logistics of trying to get to all of the different counties,” County Manager Tod Tentler said. “If you have to go from Meriwether County to Heard County to Carroll County, that can take you half a day just traveling back and forth for cases, so it makes sense to split at this time. What would happen is the state would update the study, and then we would request that if the study showed that it should be split that they fund the split of the circuit.”

A split of the Coweta Judicial Circuit would need to be approved by state legislators in the session beginning next year. State Minority Leader Rep. Bob Trammell (D-Luthersville) said in a phone conversation Thursday that the Coweta Judicial Circuit is a large circuit and the request is something that should be reviewed. Rep. Vance Smith (R-Pine Mountain) said  in a phone conversation Thursday that he looks forward to reviewing the request.

Other items covered during the meeting included:

The commission voted to open the position for a new parks and recreation director to replace Cajen Rhodes, who plans to take a job as the city manager of Peachtree City. His last day will be Nov. 30.

The commission voted to make changes to the county’s checking account to replace Tentler with Mosley as a signer on accounts.

The commission voted to allow participation in a fiscal year 2020 Department of Transportation grant application.

The commission voted to move forward with negotiating a county manager contract with Mosley.

The Troup County Board of Commissioners is scheduled to meet again on Nov. 20 at 9 a.m. at 100 Ridley Avenue.