Thursday, June 17, 2010

Chief Judge Corrects The Record

Thursday, 17 June 2010 08:55
By Don Plummer

On Wednesday Chief Judge Cynthia Wright corrected several mischaracterizations of the status of cases being heard by the Superior Court of Fulton County.

During an interview on WSB TV Chief Judge Wright said the recent dismissal of a murder case due to the length of time it had been pending was because of the specific facts in that case.

“The length of time a case is pending does not necessarily require dismissal because cases can grow old due to a variety of reasons, including incompetency to stand trial, appeals, motions and other case-related issues,” Chief Judge Wright said.

In fact, Judge Wright said, the Fulton Superior Court has continued to make significant progress in reducing the number of pending murder cases by completing 57 cases since January, leaving the Court with a total of 179 active murder cases.

Overall, felony caseloads have been reduced in the past four years, Judge Wright said.

One reason for the reduction: the Court instituted a Felony Fast-Track case-management program.

This joint effort of the Court, the Fulton District Attorney, and Fulton Public Defender deals with all nonviolent drug and property crimes – which comprise more than 70 percent of all felony indictments in Fulton - in nine weeks from arrest to conclusion. And, less than 1 percent of those cases require trial, further saving court time and tax dollars. Since Felony Fast-Track began in 2006, the court’s inventory of these type cases has been reduced by 40 percent.

A new pilot project agreed to by the DA and Public Defender will expand the rigid case management standards of Felony Fast-Track to new felony cases has been in development for several months, Wright said.

The case management plan was the result of a two-day seminar last fall organized by the Court and led by national case management experts. The seminar, attended by the Fulton County District Attorney, Fulton’s Public Defender, Superior Court Judges, Clerk of Court and members of their respective staffs, led to creation of the case management plan being implemented.

The plan will include 10 of the Court’s 20 judges and will operate under a memorandum of understanding agreed to by the District Attorney, Public Defender and other justice system partners. Under the expanded case standards plan murder and other serious violent felonies will be concluded within 48 weeks of indictment. All other crimes against persons felonies will be processed within 36 weeks of Indictment, Wright said.

The Fulton judicial system does face challenges due to a lack of funding that affects every agency, Wright said. A new unified computer system, a 10-year campaign that was approved this year, will go a long way toward streamlining the state’s largest judicial system, but more has to be done to bring the system up to the demands of civil and criminal cases, she said.

More money must be allocated for all justice agencies so they have adequate staff to process the large volume of civil and criminal cases in Fulton, she said.

The Superior Court must not focus exclusively on criminal cases because the Court has other Constitutionally mandated obligations to process civil cases, including domestic litigation involving families and children, Wright said.

Balancing those multiple responsibilities and increasing coordination with other justice agencies to achieve maximum efficiency is a goal that Wright has set for her two-year term as Chief Judge.

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