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Henry County to get new State Court judge

By Jason A. Smith

The state's Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC) is now accepting nominations for a new judge in Henry County State Court.

The process to bring in another judge to handle misdemeanor cases locally, was reportedly set in motion by the Henry County Board of Commissioners earlier this year. According to Georgia Rep. John Lunsford, the BOC approached state legislators last year, because of an "overworked caseload" in State Court.

Local lawmakers, including Reps. John Lunsford, Steve Davis and Howard Mosby, proposed legislation on the addition, titled HB 1099, earlier this year.

Lunsford said bringing in a new State Court judge will not cost local taxpayers any money. "The bill is funded at the local level, so it's really a decision of the [BOC]," he explained. "Typically, a State Court judge is cash-flow positive for the local government, and returns profits to the [area]."

The state legislature approved HB 1099 in May. The bill then made its way to the desk of Gov. Sonny Perdue, according to Barbara Watson, executive assistant to JNC Chairman Michael Bowers.

Watson outlined the procedure by which the next State Court judge will be selected.

"Once the governor signs off on a bill creating an additional judgeship, a notice is sent to every attorney in the county who is registered with the state bar," she said. "Everyone who is nominated, is sent an application package which explains what they have to do to apply."

Included in the package, said Watson, is a questionnaire and a release form, which allows the JNC to find out if any complaints have been made against attorneys applying for the job.

Applicants will then be interviewed by commission members July 21, at which point the group will submit a list of candidates to the governor.

"Once the governor receives the short list of recommended applicants, the governor's office will set up appointments, and it's out of our hands," Watson said.

The JNC conducts such selection processes throughout the year, for each of the jurisdictions in the state. The number of applicants for a judgeship varies according to the size of a given area.

"The last time Henry County had a state court opening, in 2006, we had six applications," she said, adding that the commission expects at least that many applicants this time.

Currently, there are three State Court judges in Henry - Ernest Blount, James T. Chafin, III, and Ben W. Studdard, III.

Although a date has not yet been established for Perdue to announce who the next judge will be, the appointment will take effect immediately after the governor makes his choice.