COVINGTON, Ga. - Newton County Probate Judge and Cheif Magistrate Melanie Bell will seek reelection in 2020, which, if elected, would be her second term in the office.
"Since taking office in January 2017, I have worked to increase the use of technology in both courts, making court processes more user-friendly for citizens, law enforcement and attorneys," she said in her campaign announcement. "Each day, our team works together to provide excellent customer service, while we implement changes to comply with Georgia law and to make the system more accessible to the public.
"Court can be a scary process for those who are not familiar with the system, and I work with an incredible team of men and women who strive to serve the citizens of this community in a fair, efficient, and fiscally sound manner."
Bell has worked to add services throughout her offices.
"In late 2017, the Probate Court received funding for a fingerprint machine in the office for use in weapons carry license applications," she said. "This allows applicants to visit just one location for processing and has drastically cut the wait time for a license from eight weeks to two weeks.
"We have also implemented technology in the Magistrate Court that allows our judges to sign online arrest warrants and conduct first appearance hearings using video conferencing technology. This has decreased the time between arrest, signing of a warrant, and receiving a bond hearing. As a part of criminal justice reform, the Magistrate Court has worked to implement changes in the bond system which makes it easier for indigent defendants charged with non-violent misdemeanor offenses to make bond, helping to reserve limited pre-trial bed space at the jail for those accused of violent offenses or those with extensive criminal histories."
Bell has also worked with other Newton County offices to ensure the court's continued successful relationship and need for transparency.
"I have been an active participant in the strategic plan initiated by the board of commissioners, working to be responsive to the needs of our community while providing more transparency in local government and the court system," she said. "I have worked with the Newton County School System each year to provide training for families of special needs students who will be reaching the age of majority and may need to initiate guardianship and/or conservatorship proceedings in Probate Court. I am currently working on several other public education programs to help the community understand the importance of estate planning, educate the public on mental health treatment options, and provide an opportunity for students to explore careers in the legal system."
She has also been asked to represent at the state level to continue her leadership.
"This year, I have been chosen by my peers to serve in several capacities," she said. "In April, I was asked to serve on the Training Council for the Council of Probate Judges of Georgia and was named chair of the New Judge’s Orientation Committee who will train all of the new probate judges elected in 2020. In May, I was selected to serve on the Executive Council for the Georgia Magistrate Council and asked co-chair the newly formed Communications Committee."
Bell earned bachelor of arts degrees in History and Sociology from Duke University in 1997, and received a juris doctor degree from Mercer University’s Walter F. George School of Law in 2000. Following law school, she moved to Newton County to serve as a judicial law clerk to Alcovy Judicial Circuit Superior Court Chief Judge John M. Ott. In April 2003, she was hired by then-District Attorney Ken Wynne and continued to serve as a prosecutor in the Alcovy Circuit until taking office in 2017. In her time at the District Attorney’s Office, she specialized in prosecutions of domestic violence offenses and crimes against children.
"I have had the pleasure of calling Newton County home for 19 years," she said. "I live here with my husband of 11 years, Travis, and we enjoy spending time with our families who also live in the community. We are active in our church, the Covington Campus of Eastridge Community Church, and I am looking forward to being sworn in as president of the Kiwanis Club of Covington at the end of this month.
"I was humbled and honored to have been elected to serve the citizens of Newton County in 2016, and hope they will continue to place their trust in me as their Probate Judge and Chief Magistrate in the future."