Seabaugh bill calls for Superior Court reductions

Senate Majority Whip Mitch Seabaugh (R-Sharpsburg) introduced legislation March 10 that would reduce the number of Superior Court judges in an effort to find budget savings. Currently Georgia has 205 Superior Court judges. Seabaugh’s bill would reduce that number to 186. The criteria for the judicial circuit reductions would be based on current case loads.

The Coweta Judicial Circuit includes Coweta, Carroll, Troup, Heard and Meriwether counties. The circuit and its six Superior Court judges would not be affected, however, since those judges average 3,248 cases per year.

“Due to declining revenues for over 20 months and significant budget cuts over the past few years, we are now forced to find efficiencies and savings everywhere possible.  In some cases, this requires legislative action to reduce the size and scope of government. By eliminating 19 Superior Court judge positions, we’ll achieve approximately $13-14 million in savings to the state budget,” said Seabaugh. “We looked at the overall cases filed per judge and found a more efficient balance of cases filed. Projected budget revenues return us to 2004-2005 levels. This is an area the legislature could find savings by reducing the number of judges to near 2004-2005 levels.”

Seabaugh said the determination of judgeships to be eliminated in the 16 circuits was made after evaluating the number of cases filed per judge. Those circuits which only have two judges will not be reduced, he said.

In many areas, the average workload of Superior Court judges is 3,200 cases. The 19 judgeships to be eliminated averaged approximately 1,200 cases per judge, Seabaugh said. Those cases will be disbursed among the remaining judges in that circuit. Seabaugh suggested decreasing the number of judges in those areas that have much lighter number of cases filed. 

“In this budget atmosphere, nobody is exempt from cuts. If we can find significant savings in areas where we can consolidate, those are cuts we won’t have to make to education. This is an initial proposal. I’m asking for input from the courts to ensure that the right judgeships are eliminated,” said Seabaugh. 

Seabaugh said the Fiscal Year 2010 budget is over seven percent lower than the 2009 budget and it is 8.5 percent lower than the governor’s original 2010 budget estimate. In these previous year budgets, the Senate has cut spending to state golf courses, set forth a plan to make the hall of fames self-sustaining, and consolidated services in certain departments, he said. 

Every department’s budget has been affected by budget cuts, including Natural Resources, the Forestry Commission, the State Accounting Office and Administrative Services, Seabaugh said. The number Superior Court Judges has increased each year for the past several budget cycles. This legislation proposes to scale back in circuits where the number of cases has gone down, said Seabaugh.

To balance the Fiscal Year 2011 budget, Seabaugh said the Senate is looking for an additional $1.1 billion in cuts from the governor’s recommended FY 2011 budget. The majority of cuts to the FY 2011 budget will come through the appropriations process.

“This is one of the few items that require statutory action,” Seabaugh said. “The Senate only has seven days left to work legislation through the committee process and over to the House by Legislative Day 30 on March 25.” 

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