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NEWTON TALES: General Assembly approved bill 50 years ago to form Alcovy Judicial Circuit
In 1972, the Alcovy Judicial Circuit was formed. Pictured, from left are Alcovy District Attorney John T. Strauss, Alcovy Judge Thomas W. Ridgway, Newton Rep. J.W. Morgan, Gov. Jimmy Carter and state Sen. Donald Ballard. - photo by File Photo

COVINGTON, Ga. — February marked exactly 50 years since legislation to form the Alcovy Judicial Circuit, including Newton and Walton counties, was approved by the Georgia General Assembly.

In a 1972 report by The Covington News, a reason for the new circuit’s creation was because Newton County was “at a disadvantage by being in the same circuit with DeKalb County,” which had a population of 415,000 at the time, in addition to Rockdale County. Per the 1970 census, Newton County only had a population of 26,282. 

“If Newton County remains with DeKalb County, the electors in this county would have no say as to the function of this court,” then-Newton lawmaker Rep. Jim Morgan said, “and would never be in a position to elect any judge or district attorney as one precinct in DeKalb County can out-vote the entire county of Newton County.”

In a documented March 1972 meeting of the Newton County Board of Commissioners, Morgan and state Sen. W.D. Ballard explained the benefits an Alcovy Judicial Circuit would bring, which included a cost savings (the salaries of the new circuit’s judges, district attorney and secretaries would be funded with state dollars).

Thomas W. Ridgway, of Monroe, was appointed April 17, 1972 to be judge of the new circuit, and Covington’s John T. Strauss was named the first district attorney. Then-Gov. Jimmy Carter made the appointments.

Ridgway, 44 at the time, was previously district attorney of the Western Judicial Circuit that included Walton County, as well as Athens-Clarke and Oconee counties. Strauss, 28, was district attorney pro-tem in the Western Judicial Circuit.

The first court session was held Monday, May 8, 1972.

Over the years, the circuit has grown. There are now a total of five judges for the Alcovy Judicial Circuit, including Chief Judge John M. Ott, Judge Jeffrey L. Foster, Judge Cheveda D. McCamy, Judge W. Kendall Wynne, Jr. and Judge Layla H. Zon.

Zon was the first female appointed Superior Court judge in the circuit in June 2020. Just a few months later, McCamy was the first Black woman appointed to serve. She replaced the late Horace J. Johnson Jr., who in 2002 was the first Black male appointed judge in the circuit.

In February 2021, Newton County’s Board of Commissioners formally requested state legislators create a bill to OK a split from the two-county Alcovy Judicial Circuit and establish a single Newton County Judicial Circuit. Newton Chairman Marcello Banes deemed the increased population and case load as leading factors in the board’s request.

State Sen. Brian Strickland, R-McDonough, who represents a portion of Newton County, said he wanted to see a study conducted by the state’s Judicial Council on the feasibility before the matter was discussed any further.

“We also need to know how much additional money a circuit split will cost the taxpayers of the state and the locals in Newton County since a circuit split will require the Board of Commissioners and the state of Georgia to fund new positions and pay additional supplements,” he said.

Discussions of a potential circuit split have been nonexistent since. According to results of the 2020 U.S. Census, Newton County had population of 112,483. Walton County had a population of 96,673.