Thursday, October 21, 2010

Fulton Courts merge programs

ATLANTA – The pretrial release supervision programs of the Fulton County Superior and State Courts will be combined in what Court officials call the beginning of a new era of cooperation and efficiency.

Approved Wednesday by Fulton County Commissioners the merger combines offices that supervised misdemeanor and felony defendants. It was a measure promised by Court leaders earlier this year to increase the efficiency of court operations in the face of ongoing budget constraints.

“This change ushers in a new era of cooperation between State and Superior Courts of sharing services to increase the efficiency of both Courts,” said Chief Superior Court Judge Cynthia Wright who became Chief Judge in May.

State Court Chief Judge Patsy Porter, who also took office this year, agreed that the merger is “a good opportunity to work together as a court system; to show that we are on the same team.”

A committee of State Court judges Susan B. Forsling, Susan E. Edlein and Fred C. Eady worked with State Court staff to hammer out the details of the transfer, Judge Porter said. She praised the “invaluable” service of State Court staff members Mark Harper, Valerie Jordan and Adelaide Wilder in preparing for the transfer of the misdemeanor pretrial release and supervision to Superior Court.

Current State Court pretrial office employees will become Superior Court employees under the agreement, said Superior Court Administrator Yolanda Lewis. No jobs will be eliminated during the transition and combining operations will provide an opportunity to evaluate and improve efficiencies with both programs, Lewis said.

Pretrial Services officers provide neutral, non-adversarial and verified information to judges, defense attorneys, and the prosecutors for use in determining whether to grant bond at a defendant’s initial court appearance and any subsequent hearings where bond and or conditions of release are being determined.

Supervision officers conduct drug testing of defendants to determine the prevalence of drug addiction in the jail population and provide initial screening for addiction and or mental illness to determine which defendants may be appropriately referred to Drug or Mental Health Court.

Working around the clock seven days a week Superior Court Pretrial Services screened 14,220 felony defendants in 2009. Of that total, judges assigned 4,435 defendants to the supervised release program.

Defendants in the supervised release program are much more likely to appear in court and avoid further arrests. In 2009, 97 percent of defendants released to Pretrial supervision attended all scheduled court hearings while avoiding new criminal charges.

The Superior and State Courts of Fulton County are Georgia’s largest and busiest trial courts.

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