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Sunday February 14th, 2016 12:09PM

Habersham County State Court to remain part-time

By Rob Moore Reporter
CLARKESVILLE - The Habersham County Commission voted 3-1 Monday night to reverse plans to move the county's state court to full-time on Jan. 1, 2015.

Only four of five commissioners were present for Monday's meeting.

State Court Judge Steve Campbell attended Monday afternoon's county commission work session and Monday night's meeting to answer questions about the matter.

"My feeling is at this point we're not ready to go full-time," Campbell said.

During the work session, Commissioner Sonny James said he was a commissioner when then-State Court Judge Kim Crawford and then-Solicitor Steve Campbell approached the commission to ask that state court be given full-time status.

"The caseload has decreased," Campbell told the commission. "Undoubtedly, the numbers are not the same as they were in 2007."

Habersham County operates one of 70 state courts in Georgia. County leaders chose in 1941 to create the court, Campbell said. Stephens County also has a state court.

Discussing positions that would be required for a full-time state court, Campbell said in addition to a full-time judge and full-time solicitor, the court also would require a full-time public defender and an investigator. Campbell said at this point state funds are not there to pay for those positions.

"It would cost the county a lot of money to start those up at this point," Campbell said.

Even though all revenues generated go straight to Habersham County, all expenses also are the county's responsibility.

James said the county can't afford to be the sole support of the court.

"If [money's] not there from the state, the county can't afford it - my opinion only," James said.

Campbell said currently the court is operating at about a 60-percent rate when things are running smoothly.

During Tuesday night's commission meeting, Henderson questioned how the compensation for the state court judge and state court solicitor was established at 80 percent of the superior court judges' salary when the lower court is operating about 60 percent of the time.

"I'm not trying to cut your pay here, Judge," Henderson told Campbell. "But I'm just looking at it and saying there's a discrepancy there if those numbers are actually close. There's just a question in my mind of consistency in that payment."

Campbell said there was a study done when he was solicitor that helped establish the payscale for the part-time state court judge and part-time state court solicitor positions.

"I know that while it's purely set by local legislation, I think there's also law that says it can't change within the term of the elected official," Campbell said. "At the same time, we can talk about how that should operate going forward. I want to make sure that we're meeting the needs of the county."

Monday night's vote cleared the way for the county to send local legislation maintaining the status quo (part-time status) of state court to the Capitol. That local legislation must be introduced five days before the end of the current legislative session.

In making the motion to adopt the resolution keeping state court at a part-time level, James said, "I think this is a very appropriate step to take."

Vice Chairman Andrea Harper seconded the motion, and James, Harper and Commissioner Ed Nichols voted in favor. Chairman Chad Henderson voted against the measure.

Commissioner Natalie Crawford was absent from Monday's meetings.
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