COVINGTON, Ga. — State Sen. Brian Strickland, R-McDonough, said he wanted two types of studies to be conducted before the possibility of splitting the Alcovy Judicial Circuit could begin to move forward.
Members of Newton County’s delegation met Wednesday via Zoom to discuss the potential of pushing through what would be historic legislation.
Newton commissioners voted 3-2 during its meeting Feb. 2 to formally request legislators to consider breaking up the Alcovy Judicial Circuit that includes Walton and Newton counties and allow Newton to create its own single-county circuit.
Strickland, who represents a portion of Newton County, said fellow Sen. Tonya Anderson, D-Lithonia, led the meeting. Strickland said every member of the delegation was present for the meeting, although state Rep. Dave Belton, R-Buckhead, had to join the call late because he was presenting a bill at the same time the meeting started.
The county’s delegates heard from Newton County Chairman Marcello Banes, who argued the split was supported by locals and the 3-2 vote on Feb. 2 was proof, Strickland said. He said Banes also told legislators the split would help alleviate the current caseload on the Superior Court and District Attorney.
“I said I take the 3-2 vote as a sign that the community is at least somewhat split on this,” Strickland told The Covington News, “and I have not seen any data that would indicate that splitting the circuit will actually cause our judges or district attorney to have less case load or more resources.
"I think the Board of Commissioners needs to see a study on the feasibility of such a split before we discuss the matter further," he said.
“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.”
Covington attorney Stephanie Lindsey also attended the virtual meeting. She said her role was originally to seek information for different members of the community, but later became a key part of the meeting by answering several questions about Columbia County’s split from the Augusta Judicial Circuit.
Lindsey said she was not trying to make a case for the circuit’s split.
“Individuals and heads of community organizations reached out to me to inquire about the status of the judicial split process,” Lindsey said. “My involvement in the delegation call was not to argue as to why the Alcovy Judicial Circuit should be split. While I was on the call, questions were asked about the Columbia County bill, which was passed unanimously by the Senate. I provided information regarding the Columbia County research, the Newton County caseload numbers and where the information was located for the delegation to reach their own conclusion.”
Newton’s delegation is in the process of having a study conducted by the state’s Judicial Council at Strickland’s request, though Lindsey said a study is not required.
In 2018, state Sen. Harold Jones, D-Augusta, requested a study be conducted by the Judicial Council to analyze the Augusta Judicial Circuit, which consists of Columbia, Richmond and Burke counties. Upon review, the Judicial Council recommended the Augusta Circuit remain intact.
However, a bill to propose the circuit’s break-up easily passed through the state Senate anyway approximately two weeks after this year’s legislative session began.
A timetable for a study of the Alcovy Judicial Circuit to be completed is unknown, but Strickland said there would be no legislative action taken during the 2021 session because Monday marks Crossover Day — generally considered the final day legislation must receive Senate or House approval in order to gain final approval by the end of this year's session.