Byline: GORDON JACKSON
WOODBINE - The loss of funding for senior judges will result in a growing backlog and long delays in trying cases, judges and prosecutors say.
The retired Superior Court judges working under senior status for $500 a day often conduct trials in cases in which sitting judges have conflicts of interest or work to help clear loaded court calendars.
"We're already overwhelmed with cases," said Richard Currie, district attorney for the Waycross Judicial Circuit. "It's going to put more strain on everyone."
The cuts also require state-paid employees in district attorney's offices to take one day a month off work without pay, and that also heaps more cases on the backlog.
Stephen Kelley, district attorney for the Brunswick Judicial Circuit, said he has nine employees who have to take days because of the budget cuts.
"I think everyone understands the state is in a terrible situation right now," Kelley said. "I can't lay off people. There are too many pending cases right now. This is a morale issue."
Currie, who is president of the District Attorneys Association of Georgia, said the decision by Gov. Sonny Perdue to cut funding for senior judges is a bad one because crime typically rises when economy experiences a downturn.
"We have plenty of crime in good times," he said. "It's even worse in bad times."
The cuts are due to steep declines in state revenue because of the slow economy, but Currie said this is not the time to cut budgets for the court system.
"We have a governor who doesn't have a clue about what we do," he said. "We're going to struggle with this."
CONFLICT OF INTEREST
Superior Court Judge Amanda Williams said in some instances the only person who can hear a case is a senior judge because of conflicts of interest with other judges in the circuit.
Williams cited herself as an example, saying she cannot preside over the pending case against the Cisco Travel Plazas because her son, who is a lawyer, is representing clients in a class-action lawsuit against the former owners.
The travel plazas, located in Camden County, were closed for about two months this year after state inspectors said the company was shorting customers about a quart of gas for every five gallons gauges indicated was pumped.
Another judge in the district cannot hear the case because he has represented some of the defendants in the past.
"In the Cisco case, all the judges are excused or have too high a workload," Williams said. "Now we don't have any money for a [senior] judge to hear that case. …