By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great local journalism.
Group airs courthouse concerns
Placeholder Image
Forsyth County News
The local judicial system is hurting. That much was clear during the Forsyth County Criminal Defense Bar’s meeting Friday.

The group’s State of the Courthouse luncheon covered a variety of issues, including mounting caseloads, limited space and dwindling funds.

The event was held in the courthouse jury assembly room, which will be converted into a makeshift courtroom as part of many measures being taken to make due.

As one of his last duties as the group’s president, local attorney John Rife recognized Superior Court Judges Jeffrey S. Bagley and David L. Dickinson with an award for their “ingenuity, leadership and preservation of our criminal justice system in Forsyth County.”

Rife thanked them for approving a program, known as fast-track sentencing, which provides a quicker way for defendants to enter pleas.

Bagley talked about the challenges the local judiciary faces, including the situation surrounding defendants who don’t qualify for an appointed attorney but can’t afford one on their own.

“My concern is when they actually don’t qualify, they’re out there working,” Bagley said. "They don’t qualify under the federal poverty guidelines, but yet we all know that it’s going to be difficult for them to come up with a retainer that most attorneys would require in a felony criminal case.

“There’s no real answer to that issue or problem, it’s just a matter of us trying to work through it.”

Bagley explained that the jury assembly room will be converted into a courtroom. He said funds are not available to build an additional courtroom and the space will be used by visiting judges or those who are presiding over cases from which he and Dickinson have had to recuse themselves.

He also said a defendant’s rights in the criminal justice process will not be compromised because of budget restraints.

“We’re going to continue to have jury trials regardless of the budget,” he said. “We’re going to continue to move cases. That’s our constitutionally-mandated requirement. We take an oath of office to do that and we’re going to keep doing it.”

Last year, enough new cases were filed in local Superior Court to require a third judge. However, there is no money to pay one.

It appears the rest of the state is experiencing the same issue.

Dickinson said he learned at a recent conference that the state has 205 Superior Court judges but needs 285.

“That assumes that the additional other classes of courts continue to help the way they are,” he said, adding that there is no money to have three of the judges who have already been appointed serve on the bench.

Dickinson also addressed the economy.

Forsyth County State Court Judges Phillip Smith and Russell McClelland also spoke to the group, as did Forsyth County Magistrate Pamela D. Boles.

Local attorney Kelly Turner took over as the organization’s president for 2010.

The group’s next meeting is scheduled for Feb. 13.