It now appears likely that rather than split the Alcovy Judicial Circuit, Gov. Sonny Perdue will approve a fifth judge for the circuit instead.
Newton County Superior Court Judge Samuel Ozburn said Tuesday he had received word from the governor's office that the governor has indicated he would not be approving any circuit splits this year.
Ozburn and Rep. Robert Mumford (R-Conyers) traveled to Atlanta on Friday to meet with Rep. Wendell Willard (R-Sandy Springs), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee to discuss which option was likely to come to pass.
"I don't know if it's a political decision or what," Ozburn said. "We have given all the information we can that we think would justify a circuit split being the most efficient."
Ozburn said he feels strongly the Alcovy Judicial Circuit will be granted a fifth judge because of its ranking at the top of a list, released earlier this year by the Administrative Office of the Courts, on court circuits in need of additional judges.
"Knowing that, it looks like the fifth judgeship is what will be approved for the circuit," Ozburn said.
Ozburn said he believed three to four new judgeships would be approved by the governor this year.
The cost of adding a fifth judge to the Alcovy Circuit is estimated to be $600,000 annually whereas the cost of splitting the circuit is estimated to be $640,000 annually.
If the bill to add a fifth judge, House Bill 1254, passes, a list of possible candidates to fill the position will be prepared by a judicial nominating committee. Ozburn said. From those nominated Gov.
Perdue will select a fifth judge to serve an appointed term from Jan. 1, 2009, to the next qualifying election in 2010 at which time the appointed candidate would run for a full four-year term.
The fifth judge would serve on a different election cycle than the Alcovy Circuit's current four Superior Court judges who are all up for election this November.
To qualify for the position of fifth Alcovy Circuit judge, nominees must reside in the Alcovy Circuit area of Newton or Walton County, be at least 30 years of age, be a citizen of Georgia for at least three years, have practiced law for at least seven years and be licensed to practice law in the state.
Ozburn said he hoped the fifth judge's primary office would be in Newton County on account of the county's higher caseload.
According to Ozburn the average caseload for a judge in Georgia is 2,200. Right now the average caseload for an Alcovy Judge is 2,800. While a fifth judge would lower the caseload, Ozburn said by the time the new judge arrives in 2009, the circuit's caseload is expected to have risen even more.
"We'll be looking at some other measures perhaps," Ozburn said. "We may examine a state court. There are a number of issues that we'll deal with in due time."