People are talking again about splitting the circuit.
This comes up every once in awhile.
In case you don’t know, there are 159 counties in Georgia, but only 49 judicial circuits. There is a district attorney’s office and a public defender’s office for each of those circuits. And, of course, there are judges and the number of those judges varies from circuit to circuit.
So, most of the circuits are comprised of more than one county. One has eight counties. Ours has four.
The reason counties share their judges, public defenders and district attorneys with each other is cost. It wouldn’t make financial sense to have a separate circuit for every county in Georgia. There wouldn’t be enough work to justify the expense.
So the issue involves balancing several concerns.
How do we provide the best services to the citizens in the most fiscally responsible manner?
That will ultimately be the decision of Georgia’s General Assembly.
Fayette, Spalding, Pike and Upson Counties have comprised the Griffin Judicial Circuit since August 27, 1923. A lot has changed since then.
Today, each of those counties is quite different than they were then. And today, each of those counties is very unique and different from the others. Being DA for all four counties is a little like trying to date four women at the same time, when they all know you’re doing it. They know that your attention has to be divided, but it’s not an ideal situation.
You quickly learn that methods that succeed in one county aren’t the best methods in another. If you insist on uniform practices, you won’t excel anywhere. It is better to approach each county with an open mind and figure out what works best in each place.
If money wasn’t a factor, the circuit would split. The citizens of each of our counties would benefit by receiving more concentrated attention from the judges and the public defender and district attorney.
But, money is a huge factor. And it should be.
So, questions abound. If the circuit split, what would it look like? The most commonly discussed possibility I have heard puts Fayette in a single-county circuit and leaves Pike, Spalding and Upson together. Once upon a time, there was talk of putting Fayette into the Clayton Circuit. I don’t think that would be a very popular idea today.
Who pays for the extra expenses? By law, the state would pay for the judges and the newly created DA and Public Defender positions. There are certain other jobs in those offices that require state funding. Most likely, the state would absorb some of the personnel expenses that the counties are currently bearing.
That’s why I think it is unlikely that the legislature would vote to create a new circuit.
What do I want to see happen? I love the job like it is. I love serving in four counties, meeting people in four counties, driving through and enjoying the beauty of four counties. I want to help as many people as I can in the most effective way possible.
I think it is wise to study the issue and to make responsible decisions about getting the most bang for our buck. When the smoke clears, our office will keep working as hard as we can for the citizens that we serve.
Whoever that turns out to be.
Scott Ballard is District Attorney for the Griffin Judicial Circuit.