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Judicial circuit marks 10 years
Population, case loads drove split from Blue Ridge in 1998
10thAnnCircuitCt 1 esWEB
Anna Neville, 6, the granddaughter of the late judge Richard Neville watches as the flag ceremony begins Tuesday night at the Forsyth County Courthouse. The ceremony was part of the Bell-Forsyth Judicial Circuit's 10th anniversary celebration. - photo by Emily Saunders

The creation of the Bell-Forsyth Judicial Circuit was essential, according to the circuit's chief judge.

"The number of cases had gotten so large and the population of Forsyth County had gotten so big," Chief Judge Jeffrey Bagley said, "it made sense to split from the [Blue Ridge Judicial] circuit. Today, the courts operate here under the Bell-Forsyth Circuit. It's our circuit."

Bagley, judges from the nearby Blue Ridge and Appalachian circuits and about 100 area residents commemorated the circuit's 10th anniversary with a ceremony Tuesday afternoon on the steps of the Forsyth County Courthouse.

"Both the success of this circuit and this day are a tribute to the work that has been done," said Chief Judge Frank Mills of the Blue Ridge Circuit. "It was a great day when they created the Bell-Forsyth Circuit, and today we celebrate that."

Others in attendance included District 23 state Rep. Mark Hamilton, two county commissioners, Solicitor General Leslie Abernathy and Forsyth County Bar Association President Sam Siemon.

The namesake of the circuit, Hiram Parks Bell, served in the U.S. and Confederate Congress and the State Senate. He was also an attorney, author and orator until his death in 1907.

Georgia legislators passed an act in 1851 to create the Blue Ridge Judicial Circuit, which covered Carroll, Cobb, Cherokee, Floyd, Gilmer, Lumpkin, Paulding, Polk, Union and Forsyth counties. It also included the old Campbell County, which was later divided among other counties still in existence.

In 1998, the General Assembly passed a bill to create the Bell-Forsyth circuit. The late Judge Richard S. Gault served as the first judge of the circuit. His wife, Paula Gault, accepted a plaque commemorating his service.

"Gault was the driving force behind the split," said District Attorney Penny Penn. "He recognized the growth in Forsyth County."

Bagley said the split from the Blue Ridge Circuit in 1998 was a practical move.

"It didn't make sense to be tied to Cherokee County anymore since the judges traveled between Cumming and Canton," Bagley said.

"It made more sense to split the circuit so that judges could stay in one county," he said.

On July 3, 1998, Forsyth County residents stood at the courthouse steps to celebrate the birth of the circuit. Forsyth County's first district attorney, Phil Smith, was sworn into office. Smith attended Tuesday's gathering as well.