Around Town: Bench Battle — Cox push to eliminate judgeship might gain traction
by Bill Kinney & Joe Kirby
Around Town Columnists
November 17, 2012 12:33 AM | 7126 views | 9 9 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
DON’T BE SURPRISED to see Chief Magistrate Frank Cox’s suggestion that a soon-to-be empty seat on the Cobb State Court go unfilled for budgetary reasons start gaining traction. As reported in Friday’s MDJ, Cox said the county could save a half million dollars a year by eliminating the seat now held by Judge Rob Leonard, who was appointed to the Superior Court bench last week by Gov. Nathan Deal to succeed retiring Judge George Kreeger. Leonard is to be sworn in Nov. 26.

Cox emailed Cobb Commission Chairman Tim Lee and the other commissioners plus County Manager David Hankerson last week with his idea.

“It is common knowledge in the defense bar that the traffic court judges do not have sufficient business to keep them productive for 5 days a week, most days they work half days 2-3 days a week,” Cox wrote.

The county would eliminate the need for an administrative assistant, two assistant solicitors and various bailiffs and deputy sheriffs by leaving the job unfilled, he said.

He also pointed out that State Court judges routinely volunteer to hear cases on a “fill-in” basis on the Superior Court bench, “an indication that they don’t have enough work,” Cox added.

Cobb has 12 State Court judges. Leonard serves on the Division 2 State Court bench, commonly referred to as “traffic court.” The Division 2 caseload has dropped sharply in recent years, from almost 94,000 cases in 2010 to barely 65,000 last year and less than 59,000 through Oct. 31 of this year.

State Court Chief Judge Toby Prodgers responds that the number of tickets will likely go up next year due to the assignment of more Georgia State Patrol troopers to Cobb next year. He also noted that some Division 2 judges perform a vital role by volunteering to hear cases on the Superior Court bench.

But it’s not as if Superior Court proceedings would suddenly come to a grinding halt if there were one fewer State Court judge. Such cases are also heard at times by the Superior Court’s Senior Judges, by Cobb Juvenile Court judges and by Cox himself.

Chairman Lee is taking a “hands off” approach to the controversy for now, correctly noting that judgeships are created by the Legislature and that the appointment in question is up to the governor. The downside for the governor would be the loss of a judgeship he could fill. But Republican Deal has been attentive to Republican-rich Cobb and might be so again were Lee and the Republican-dominated Cobb legislative delegation to decide the judgeship is not needed.

Moreover, a legislative source told Around Town on Friday that the judgeship is something the delegation plans to look at.

With the county government and both local school systems steadily being forced to downsize operations in recent years for budget reasons, you can expect there will be pressure on State Court to follow suit.

FORMER Georgia Supreme Court Justice Conley Ingram of Marietta was the “consensus” first choice to serve as mediator of the high-profile property dispute between Roswell Street Baptist Church and the City of Marietta, but politely declined on Friday.

Ingram, who now has Senior Judge status in Cobb Superior Court, was nominated for the job by Roswell Street Baptist and quickly assented to by the city, according to City Attorney Doug Haynie. He and church attorney Fred Bentley Jr. went through five other names on Friday morning after learning of Ingram’s decision and may sort through multiple others before picking a “finalist.”

The church and city are far apart in a long-running negotiation over how much to compensate the church for the loss of parking spaces needed to widen Roswell Street to four lanes from two. Church members packed the council chambers at Wednesday’s council meeting to show support for their position. The two sides ultimately agreed to have Haynie and Bentley pick a mediator within 10 days.

It’s hoped that whoever is chosen, the two sides can finally reach agreement. The church is one of the city’s best “citizens” on that side of town, but it’s also clear that congested Roswell Street is overdue for widening.

READERS WILL RECALL that one of the biggest controversies of Dr. John Crooks’ tenure on the Cobb school board came when he persuaded the board to sneak a vote on a controversial cell tower at East Valley Elementary School onto its July 2009 meeting agenda at the last minute. His stated reason for doing so was to avoid “a circus” that would ensue if the opponents of the tower knew of the pending vote and could pack the meeting chamber.

Crooks is an assistant pastor at Roswell Street Baptist and was one of those working to help pack Wednesday’s council meeting in a show of force — or “circus,” you might say — against the city.

“Now it looks like Rev. Crooks has run off and joined the circus,” said a wag

OPINION AMONG LOCAL POLITICOS was split late this week on whether the failure of U.S. Rep. Tom Price (R-east Cobb) to be elected House Republican Conference Chairman — his party’s No. 4 Leadership post in the House — helps or hurts his ability to mount an election challenge against U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Moultrie) in 2014. Some of those contacted by Around Town said that had he won, rather than Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington state, the higher-profile role it provides would have enhanced his ability to take on the entrenched Chambliss. Others said that losing the leadership post gives Price even more incentive to run against Chambliss, who many hard-right conservatives see as soft on immigration and budget issues. … Another Republican congressman said to be looking at a run against Chambliss is Paul Broun of Athens, who insiders predict could officially be in the race by sometime this winter.

GEORGIA House Speaker David Ralston will be the keynote speaker at the Nov. 28 breakfast of the Cobb Chamber of Commerce’s Marietta Chapter. The group also will present its Marietta Citizen of the Year Award that day at the Mansour Center. ... State Sen. Judson Hill (R-east Cobb) was elected Thursday as vice chairman of the Senate Republican Caucus. … State Rep. David Wilkerson (D-Austell) was elected treasurer for the Georgia House Democratic Caucus on Monday.

IS LONGTIME Cobb school board attorney Glenn Brock thinking of breaking off from the Brock Clay firm in Marietta he co-founded with Chuck Clay and taking his education law practice to another Atlanta-area firm? That’s what a well-placed source tells Around Town.

THE MARIETTA ROTARY CLUB has chosen a fifth-generation Marietta Rotarian as its president-elect. Dawn McEachern, director of community engagement for the WellStar Foundation, is the great-great-granddaughter of Marietta Rotary founding member John W. Hancock, who was the club’s first president back in 1919.

Her maternal great grandfather, Ralph James Hancock, was Marietta Rotary president in 1925. Her great uncle, Jigger Hancock, and grandfather, W.H. Dunaway, were presidents of Marietta Rotary. Her father, former Marietta Mayor Bill Dunaway, has been a Marietta Rotarian since 1964.

ALL’S FAIR IN LOVE AND WAR. During the Cobb County School Board’s discussion Wednesday about what legislative priorities they’ll take to the Cobb legislative delegation at their joint meeting Nov. 26, they decided 5-1 that rather than present a priorities list that they would just ask for one thing: a “commitment” from state lawmakers not to cut their budget. Last year the Cobb School District saw its state funding budget slashed by $72 million.

The only board member on Wednesday who opposed the recommendation was Vice Chair David Morgan, also known as the husband of Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan (D-Austell).

Morgan kept trying to encourage the group to take more than one request, prompting fellow board member Lynnda Eagle to whisper to him, “She’s still going to love you,” obviously referencing Rep. Morgan.

Morgan doesn’t seem to be the only one who’s a little worried about going before state legislators with only one request, though. Superintendent Dr. Michael Hinojosa joked, “Life insurance, here I come,” adding that legislators might shoot him if he walks in with only one priority, much less a “commitment” instead.

Comments-icon Post a Comment
November 19, 2012
Cox is NEVER EVER on the bench!
Learned Hand
November 18, 2012
Comparing Cobb COUNTY to the CITY of Atlanta is comparing apples to oranges. Fulton County has an overall population of around 925K with about 495K being in the city of Atlanta. Fulton State Court has 10 State Court judges, with none designated to traffic court. These 10 are helped out by a five or so magistrate judges who are dedicated to traffic and additional magistrates do calendars at the jail.(perhaps this is the direction Cox wants to take? power grab?). Atlanta Municipal Court has 8 additional judges for roughly half the county population that is within the city, and that is mostly traffic cases. That's 23 judges in Atlanta/Fulton, not addressing the other municipalities there. Cobb State Court has 12 judges for a county of 695K people, with around 495K in UNincorporated Cobb. 7 of these are not dedicated to traffic court and handle non-traffic misdemeanors and civil cases in addition to some traffic cases. Cobb's municipalities have one part time judge each. I would not look to Fulton or Atlanta for a business model.
Learned Hand - No!
November 19, 2012
Obviously, you work or have a close friend or family member who works for the Cobb County State Court system. I have personal knowledge of which I speak, and the Cobb County State Court system could be more lean and efficient. The overemployment in the Cobb County State Court system is an unnecessary burden on us taxpayers. Your thought processes are no where close to Judge Learned Hand's, and you do a serious disservice to his legacy by trying to use that monicker.
Learned Hand - Yes!
November 20, 2012
Learned Hand - No! must be a disgruntled former state court employee or one of our local attorneys sucking at the public defender's office teat who wants to bill more for attending calendar calls. If anyone needs to be leaner, it is the Magistate Court - and the Chief Magistrate.
November 21, 2012
To the idiot who's calling him/her/it-self "Learned Hand" -- I'm certain I have made more money this year so far than you have made in your entire, pathetic career. Come out of the closet and let us see who you are instead of hiding behind a great person's name. You know you are in no way distinguished enough to use Judge Learned Hand's name. That's a testament to what a pathetic person you are; you're probably one of those lawyers who is so awful, and, therfore, whose practice is so non-existent that you're on welfare.
Learned Hand
November 24, 2012
I am the only poster who has supplied facts. The responses consisted solely of insults. "SuccessfulLawyer" sounds low class enough to be what he says he is - one of Marietta'$ slimey money-takers. Here's some news, chuckles - high income does doesn't make your opinion any more valid than the most redneck anonymous internet insult-hurler, which is exactly what you sound like.
Print this
November 17, 2012
If Cox really wanted to save money, he would have suggested abolishing Magistrate court and send the duties back to state court where they rightfully belong. Now that would save the county millions!!
Judge Cox is right.
November 17, 2012
Judge Cox is right on track. Porportonately, Cobb County has more traffic court judges than Atlanta, and Atlanta has much more population. Atlanta runs its Traffic Court more efficiently than Cobb County, and we need to stop wasting our money this way. All those people don't need to have those cushiony judges jobs; some of them need to get out and work for a living. The Commissioners and Governor Deal should help Cobb County in this way.
Julie Smart
November 17, 2012
A superior court judge has never sat in for state court.....or a magistrate judge for a fact. As for superior court judges, they could cut out all the senior judges that come in. Those stats should be interesting too.
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