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Columbia County pushes to break from Augusta court system

Published: Dec. 2, 2020 at 6:40 PM EST
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EVANS, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - The Columbia County Commission is asking state lawmakers for its own judicial circuit.

The timing is interesting since it comes after Republican incumbent District Attorney Natalie Paine lost her re-election campaign to Democrat Jared Williams.

The county says this has been in the works for years with an eye towards the future.

“Earlier this year, Judge Annis retired. That gave us three superior court judges that live in Columbia County,” Chairman Doug Duncan of the Columbia County Board of Commissioners said. “Frankly, that was the last hurdle.”

The last hurdle, he says, along with several clear reasons. In a resolution sent to the state, the Board of Commissioners argued significant cost savings with their own circuit -- around $1 million a year, according to financial analysis.

“Right now, we spend in the neighborhood of a little over $4 million goes to the judicial district and by all the analysis that we did -- we’d spend about $3 [million],” Duncan said.

Columbia County accounts for more than 35 percent of the budget for the Augusta Judicial Court.

But commissioners say they don’t have as much of a caseload or need.

“The timing of this decision seems awkward. But apart from that, if they’ve made a decision that now is the time to start saving money, that seems like it’s a good time,” Columbia County Attorney Robert Homlar said.

Homlar has practiced law in this circuit for 12 years. He says logistically this won’t change anything for them, but he says he’s all for saving money.

“We try to focus on running Columbia County like a business in areas where we can,” Duncan said.

And that’s clear. The county recently bought the old TaxSlayer building, which it plans to use for juvenile court and other agencies. And the already existing courthouse will be renovated to hold superior court.

According to the resolution, the sheriff also thinks this move will be in the best interest of public safety. As some still speculate, this is a political move.

“Ultimately, it comes down to facts. Again, the facts are we have three judges, and we are going to save a million dollars a year. Therein lies the request,” Duncan said.

If this passes the legislative session, the earliest this change could happen would be July 1.

Initially, the governor would appoint a new district attorney. Then they would have to run for re-election in the next cycle.

The three Columbia County judges would have to run for re-election during their cycle as well.

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