COLUMBUS, Ga. — Columbus Recorder’s Court is making some changes to meet the demand of a number of local crimes. City Council approved four new positions for the public defender’s office last week. Recorder’s Court handles about 95% of criminal cases. The crimes range from misdemeanors like disorderly conduct and traffic violations to forgeries, to preliminary hearings for murders and car thefts.
The public defender’s office for the Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit oversees six counties in the News 3 viewing area. They’re now bringing on two full-time attorneys, a part-time attorney, and an investigator to handle Recorder’s Court cases. News 3 spoke with Chief Assistant Public Defender Stephen Craft says Columbus Recorder’s Court handles the bulk of local criminal cases.
“The court has changed over the years but there’s been very little change in the process,” Craft said.
The city of Columbus claims certain crimes are on the decline. However, Craft says added officers over the years made the system saturated with cases for the courts to handle.
“The system has never adjusted beyond that,” Craft explained. “Police put the largest numbers in at the top, and then it gets squeezed down to the other courts.”
So city council asked the public defender’s office to step in and help.
“What happens is, it gives us the opportunity to meet everyone in the jail before they come before the judge,” Craft said. “So everyone knows what’s going to happen to them. They know what their options are and they’re free to make the appropriate choices.”
But the help comes at a $136,799 cost. Finance Director Angelica Alexander says taxpayers won’t have to cover the additional costs though.
“I would anticipate that this additional cost would be covered either by additional revenue or by other savings within the departments to include salary savings,” Alexander said.
Craft says people will eventually become better educated about the criminal process through better better representation. He believes there will be a streamlining in the court process. The additional positions will go into effect Wednesday, February 15. The changes will last through at least the end of FY17 in July.
News 3 received a tip that these changes stemmed from a couple of lawsuits against Recorder’s Court. News 3 asked City Attorney Clifton Fay about any possible settlements in these cases, but he did not offer any details.