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Board will seek General Assembly approval of Newton-only court system
Alcovy judges
From left are Alcovy Judicial Circuit Superior Court Judges Jeff Foster and Layla Zon, Chief Judge John Ott, former Judge Eugene Benton, and Judges Ken Wynne and Cheveda McCamy. - photo by Tom Spigolon

COVINGTON, Ga. — County commissioners have narrowly approved a resolution asking state legislators to create a new judicial circuit containing only Newton County.

The Newton County Board of Commissioners voted 3-2 on Tuesday, Feb. 2, to seek legislators’ support for splitting up the two-county Alcovy Judicial Circuit that includes Newton and Walton counties.

The resolution asks state lawmakers for a bill that would place Newton County in a one-county Newton Judicial Circuit.

The proposed legislation will be sent to members of the Newton County legislative delegation who must consider whether they want to introduce it and work to advance it through the legislative process this year.

District 1 Commissioner Stan Edwards’ motion to “table” the resolution to delay action on it for 60 days failed with commissioners Demond Mason of District 2, Alana Sanders of District 3 and J.C. Henderson of District 4 voting against it.

Commissioners then voted 3-2 for the resolution with Henderson, Mason and Sanders supporting it and Edwards and District 5 Commissioner Ronnie Cowan voting against it.

The two counties’ judicial systems have been tied together since the early 1970s. They share the same five Superior Court judges and a district attorney.

DA Randy McGinley’s office handles the prosecution of all cases in the Superior Courts of both counties, including all misdemeanors and felonies because neither county has a State Court.

Each county, however, has its own Probate Court and Juvenile Court judges and Clerk of Courts.

County Chairman Marcello Banes said the caseload has increased in Newton County, which shows the need for a one-county circuit.

He said counties similar in size to Newton, including Columbia and Rockdale, either already have or are working to create their own single-county circuits.

County attorney Sam VanVolkenburgh said Superior County judges Cheveda McCamy, Ken Wynne and Layla Zon would remain as judges in a new judicial circuit because they are Newton residents. 

He said the governor would need to appoint a district attorney for the new circuit until the 2022 election. McGinley is the first Walton resident to serve as DA since Chief Judge John Ott in the 1990s.

County Manager Lloyd Kerr said he did not believe a change in the judicial system would have a “significant” impact on the budget. 

He noted that salaries of district attorney and judges’ staffs already working in Newton would not change and are often supplemented partly or totally by the state.

However, District 1 Commissioner Stan Edwards said McGinley told him the DA’s office has been able to handle the caseload in both counties recently.

District 5 Commissioner Ronnie Cowan said he believed the board should delay action on the resolution until members could discuss the proposed change with the judges it would affect.

“I do think it’s going to have a substantial impact on the judicial system,” Cowan said. 

Henderson said some local residents had lobbied for the change for years. 

He said he knew of Newton residents who had wanted to run for offices within the Alcovy Circuit but likely could not have won because they also had to campaign in Walton.   

“I think this is a good day in Newton County,” Henderson said.

Candidates for Superior Court judge and DA must win a majority of the total votes cast in both counties to earn election.

Some candidates for DA and judge who were Covington residents in 2020 won a majority of Newton County votes but lost their elections because of overwhelming support for their Walton County-based opponents in their home county.

In addition, Democratic candidates currently are at a disadvantage if running for election in a two-county race. 

Based on 2020 election results, Republicans make up around 60% to 70% of voters in Walton County and combine with the large share of GOP voters in Newton to elect their candidates in partisan, two-county races.