Chief Justice Hines Delivered Final State of the Judiciary Address

Chief Justice P. Harris Hines delivered an optimistic speech on February 22, 2018, marking his final address to the legislature before he retires this August.  “The year 2018 will be a year of great change,” the Chief Justice observed, noting that a new Governor and Lieutenant Governor will be elected. “Many new judges will don their robes of office for the first time. Our citizens will elect a new justice to our Supreme Court, and Governor Deal will make his fifth appointment to the Court.”

Chief Justice P. Harris Hines“I am confident that when I leave the bench as Georgia’s Chief Justice at the end of August, after a legal career that began in 1968, Georgia’s judiciary will be steady, strong, and situated to become the best it has ever been.”

The Chief Justice thanked legislators for their support of the state’s judiciary. “Your belief in an independent, non-partisan, and non-political third branch of government has been manifested by the creation of additional justices and judges for our state’s two appellate courts; by passage of legislation that has made both Georgia’s Supreme Court and Court of Appeals more efficient, productive,  and effective in interpreting and clarifying the law; and by recognizing the hard work of those who sit upon Georgia’s benches of justice by rewarding them with appropriate and appreciated compensation.”

Criminal Justice Reform Council

The Chief Justice noted, “A sea change I have witnessed in my many years as a judge is how we view and respond to criminal behavior.  We’ve become smarter, more precise, and more just.  As a result, the courts are doing a better job of protecting society, saving taxpayer dollars, and restoring families.”

A rewrite of the juvenile code and appropriation of $7 million for communities to develop alternatives to locking up young people in the state’s youth jails and prisons has had a dramatic effect in Georgia, the Chief Justice said.

Accountability Courts

One of the most beneficial shifts in judicial practices is the use of accountability courts in the state.  As of January, every single Judicial Circuit in Georgia now has at least one accountability court. In six years, the number of participants has tripled.

Chief Justice Hines highlighted the work of Judge Brian Amero, Superior Court, Flint Judicial Circuit, who saw a need to help families and created a Parental Accountability Court.

“In six years of existence, these courts have helped almost 5,000 parents – mostly fathers – avoid jail time and pay more than $5 million in support for more than 7,000 Georgia children.  Additionally, they have saved counties more than $10 million in incarceration costs.”

Technology

One success story of importance has been the establishment of a statewide portal to bring ready access to our courts. Efficiency will be improved, time and money will be saved, and justice will be administered more quickly.  One noteworthy technology accomplishment is that case filings are now being accepted electronically in the state’s Appellate Courts.

Foster Children

Chief Justice Hines shifted focus to the need for foster homes in the state. By the end of this year, some 14,000 of Georgia’s children are expected to be in our foster care system - a surge of 55 percent in the last three years.  At the same time, the number of foster families has diminished. The increase in the number of children in foster care has been fueled in part by illegal drug usage, including illicit use of opioids.  Nationally, the number of children in foster care has tripled since 2012.

Access to Justice

The Chief Justice also noted the ongoing need to improve access to justice, “Too many hard-working, good, decent Georgians simply cannot afford a lawyer to handle civil matters that often involve ownership of property, debt collection, landlord-tenant disputes and other similar everyday legal matters.” The Chief Justice implored Legislators to look at increasing access and to consider the pressing issue of how bail is set.  “People cannot be kept in jail because of poverty alone.”

The Chief Justice ended his remarks by saying, “I am certain that if you legislators, good men and women all, put your primary focus on strengthening, within the ambit of the law, Georgia’s families, improving the physical and mental health of our citizens, and providing the young people of our state with the opportunity to obtain an excellent education, you will create a rising tide that will lift all boats and provide the opportunity for happiness and prosperity for generations of Georgians to come.”

 To read the Chief’s Justice’s entire speech, click here. View the speech below.

 

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