Forsyth County is one step closer to getting a third Superior Court judge.
The state House of Representatives voted 161-1 to approve a bill to add a new judgeship to the Bell-Forsyth judicial circuit.
The measure was expected to clear the Senate later Tuesday afternoon. Funding for the new judge was included in the budget approved earlier that day.
“To me, this is a good example of the House and Senate working together along with our court system,” said District 23 state Rep. Mark Hamilton, a Republican from Cumming. “This was a group collaborative effort and we’re very happy with the progress.”
Forsyth County’s two Superior Court judges, Jeffrey Bagley and David Dickinson, are working with a substantial backlog of cases.
“To get a temporary divorce hearing, you’ve got to wait about four months. That is too long,” Bagley said. “This has been a long time coming, but we had to wait until the economy got back … and for the state budget to get in a little bit better shape before the state House and Senate would consider it.
“I’m very excited, to sum it up.”
While the bill approves a third judge for the county, Bagley said Forsyth is getting close to the threshold of needing a fourth justice.
According to the state’s formula, Forsyth’s court threshold is 3.54, Bagley said.
“The threshold is 3.7 or 3.8 to get a fourth judge,” he said. “Of course, we wouldn’t expect to get a judge two years in a row or even in the next few years regardless of the case count … but we’ll certainly be in the hunt in a few years for that.”
In the meantime, the county has been routinely using senior, or retired, judges for the past year or so to help Bagley and Dickinson get through the dockets.
“We’ve grown and the cases have become more serious and our felony case load has increased,” Bagley said. “We’ve just used a lot of judicial assistance over the past years … as the cases have mounted.
“All of those cases will decline significantly when we get a third judge.”
The bill, authored by District 27 state Sen. Jack Murphy, R-Cumming, also calls for the funding of support staff for the new judge.
Hamilton said funding would total about $400,000 for six months. The new judge, who would be appointed by Gov. Nathan Deal, could begin Jan. 1.
“Normally, there are several people that will rise up saying they’d like to be considered,” Hamilton said. “The governor will consult with the delegation to get our views on the potential candidates.”
Deal’s appointment would last two years. The judge must then run for election for a full four-year term.