January Meeting of the Judicial Council

On January 10, 2013, the Judicial Council of Georgia met in Atlanta, GA.  Chief Justice Carol W. Hunstein, Supreme Court of Georgia, presided over the meeting that was held at the St. Regis Hotel in conjunction with the State Bar of Georgia Mid-Year meeting.
 
Policy and Legislation
Presiding Justice Thompson reported on behalf of the Policy and Legislation Committee.  The Committee recommended that the Judicial Council support seven legislative initiatives during the 2013 Georgia General Assembly.  There were no recommendations to oppose legislation.  Members voted to support bills that would:   

1.     increase the maximum contempt of court  penalty for all trial courts to a uniform $1000.00;
2.     remove the requirement for rehearing associate juvenile court judge’s decisions;
3.      allow a juvenile court judge to transfer a case to the county of a child’s residence;
4.      allow a probate court judge to request the district attorney prosecute cases in counties in which there is no state court;
5.     add procedural safeguards in the issuance of good behavior bonds; and
6.     remove geographic restrictions on the location of a judge when signing an electronic warrant. 

A vote was tabled on a bill to restrict full-time magistrates from practicing law; the bill also has citizenship and morality clauses.
 
Accountability Courts
The Drug Court Standards and Mental Health Court Standards went into effect on January 1, 2013.  The Accountability Court Committee has been charged with developing a certification and peer review process for drug and mental health courts for consideration and adoption by the Judicial Council prior to July 1, 2013.  Ms. Lateefah Thomas was introduced as the Accountability Courts Program Manager charged with assisting the Accountability Courts Committee with implementing the Judicial Council’s responsibilities under HB 1176, the 2012 Criminal Justice Reform Bill.
 
Board of Court Reporting Rules
The Board of Court Reporting has conducted a yearlong review of its existing rules in an effort to govern the conduct of court reporting firms.  The two revisions to the Board of Court Reporting rules were proposed and approved:
 
(1) Article 7. Court Reporting Firms was modified to indicate that court reporting firms must maintain impartiality from cases filed in Georgia and adhere to the professional, moral, and ethical conduct within the practice of court reporting.  The revision redefines the meaning of “court reporting firm,” clarifies the law that prohibits contracting, declares that the Georgia Court Reporting Act pertains to court reporting firms and that owners or officers of firms are subject to disciplinary sanctions, and applies the Code of Professional Ethics equally to firms and court reporters. 
 
(2) Article 10. Ethics relates to the disclosure requirements for depositions and differentiates those activities allowed under contracting and networking.  Specifically, court reporters or firms must disclose any relationship of interest as allowed under O.C.G.A. § 9-11-28(c).  The revision requires the disclosure of all financial benefits and compels the court reporter or the firm to name the person or entity that originally accepted the deposition assignment. 
 
 Recommendations for Changes to Official Court Reporter’s Fee Schedule
The Court Reporting Matters Committee was asked to create guidelines and best practices to assist court reporters, judges, and county governing authorities in determining fair and accurate compensation for work done by court reporters.  The Committee held ten meetings in 2012 to review changes to the Fee Schedule, assess the current state of technology used in recording and transcript production, and identify and evaluate best practices and future trends in court reporting.

Judicial Council members were provided with a draft report that included an executive summary, history, technology, environmental scan, and other considerations that the Committee used in its deliberations.  Nine recommendations were presented with commentary and implementation in three categories: personal services, transcript production, and method of reporting.  The report directs the Board of Court Reporting in specific tasks and provides a timeline for completion.  The outcomes of this report are intended to: prepare courts for a paperless or electronic future; clarify types of proceedings for mandatory and non-mandatory reporting; establish the court record/transcript as a public record; and provide for accountability and transparency.
 
Discussion centered on the definition of “digital reporting,” the perception that the proposed page rate is too low, a definition of “independent contractor,” and the economic impact to counties.  Based on the short time Judicial Council members had to review the report, a motion to table was adopted.
 
Director’s Report
Ms. Marla S. Moore, Director, Administrative Office of the Courts, reported on the acceptance by the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget to add on an out-of-time request of $52,000 in FY 2013 and $208,000 in FY 2014 for E-Filing.  Ms. Ashley Garner was introduced as the new Policy Fiscal Analyst for the AOC and the Judicial Council Budget Committee.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the work of the Judicial Council/Administrative Office of the Courts. A new agency logo was designed to commemorate the anniversary.

Ms. Moore reported on the many projects of the Court Services Division, noting that Courts Services is the agency’s largest division and the heart of most of the projects with which the AOC is involved. Currently, the Office of Research, Planning, and Data Analysis and the Office of Certification and Licensing are collaborating on the Pilot Project on Remote Interpreting. 

A statewide salary survey is underway to gather information that will help communicate the personnel costs of the courts to policy makers throughout the state.  Normally, salary surveys are conducted in conjunction with judgeship studies in requesting circuits.

A new project between the Certification and Licensing Section and the Information Technology Division is underway to develop a web-based system that all of the programs can use.  It is anticipated that each certification and licensing program will be using the new system by the end of 2013.

Research staff is conducting a time to disposition study, collecting data to study disposition times of criminal, civil, and domestic relations cases in the superior courts.  Until 2002, the AOC collected disposition data as well as filings.  In 2002, the Judicial Council voted to suspend collection of disposition data for a year. This suspension was never lifted, but staff collects data on an individual basis when a judgeship request is studied.

Court Services’ work encompasses a wide range of functions including staffing the Accountability Court Committee that determines standards for courts, is developing the certification and peer review processes as required by statute and is planning the 2013 Accountability Court Conference.  The Georgia Commission on Family Violence recently released a state plan to end domestic violence in Georgia.  Tthe Georgia Child Support Collaborative hosts 69 counties who electronically file child support orders.  The Cold Case Project reviews children who have been in the system a long time or are about to age out of the system who have not come to permanency.  Efforts are underway to bring an additional Science of Addiction training to Georgia.
 
Other Business
Special reports were heard regarding funding for Civil Services for Domestic Violence Victims, the Immigration and the State Courts Initiative, and Statewide Judiciary Civil E-Filing.  Reports were heard from the appellate courts and trial court councils.
 
Next Meeting
The next meeting of the Judicial Council will be held at the Fernbank Museum of Natural History on April 12, 2013.

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