Covington attorney Billy Waters was sworn in as Covington Municipal Court judge last week, and the Covington City Council hopes the Newton County native will bring some stability to the position.
Waters was selected by the City Council from 20 initial applicants and four finalists. Human Resources Director Ronnie Cowan said the council made its decision based on candidates’ years of legal practice, prior experience as a judge, prosecutor or defense counsel and local presence in the community.
Waters fit the bill with 35 years in legal practice, including spending 11 years as the Newton County Chief Juvenile Court Judge, more than a year as municipal court judge of Walnut Grove and more than a quarter century with the Covington-based law firm of Ballard, Stephenson and Waters, where he focuses on civil and criminal trial litigation.
“I view the position of the municipal court judge as a challenge. It will provide me an opportunity to utilize my prior experience to benefit the community,” Waters said in an email to The News.
In his cover letter, Waters talked about his tenure with the Newton County Juvenile Court, including starting up the first juvenile drug court in Georgia.
“The drug court consisted of an intense, court-monitored, treatment-oriented program for adolescents with substance abuse problems,” Waters wrote, noting that the program was a model for the state and other communities.
Waters earned his law degree from the John Marshall Law School in June 1978.
The Covington Municipal Court judge is a part-time position with a salary of $28,000 plus full health insurance coverage.
The municipal judge is appointed, or reappointed, annually by the City Council. Municipal court is scheduled every Wednesday, with alternate days for arraignments and trials, and handles various violations of state traffic law, city ordinances, including housing and building code violations, and other misdemeanor offenses. The court is located in the Covington Police Department on Oak Street.
The two previous municipal court judges both left because of incidents on the job. The most recent judge, Steven Hathorn, voluntarily resigned after a minority court employee said she was offended on multiple occasions by the way Hathorn spoke to minority defendants.
The judge before Hathorn, David Strickland, was not reappointed by the council after employees with the company that provided probation services accused Strickland of unfair treatment because of a romantic relationship with a former probation officer who was convicted of stealing. There were also many concerns expressed about the way the probation company was handling issues; the company East Georgia Correctional Services is under investigation by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation for alleged financial fraud.