Chief Justice focuses State of the Judiciary Address on Georgia’s 21st Century Courts

Speaking to a joint session of the Georgia General Assembly, Chief Justice Hugh P. Thompson delivered his third State of the Judiciary address on January 27, 2016. “[A]s we move into 2016,” the Chief Justice declared, “I am pleased to tell you that your judicial branch of government is not only steady and secure, it is dynamic; it has momentum; and it is moving forward into the 21st century with a vitality and a commitment to meeting the inevitable changes before us.”
Many of the Chief’s remarks highlighted the great changes that have come to Georgia:
Population growth:
• Georgia is among the fastest growing states in the nation, and in less than four years, our population is projected to exceed 12 million.
 • While the population of Georgia has nearly doubled since 1983, the number of Georgia judges has grown only 16 percent.
Shifting cases to the Court of Appeals:
“Modernization of the Supreme Court makes sense,” the Chief Justice said. “In a 19th century court system, when most of the wealth was tied up in land, maybe title to land cases were the most important. Maybe they had the greatest implications for the public at large. But as we move into the 21st century, that is no longer true.
“Let me emphasize that all these cases the Commission recommended shifting to the Court of Appeals are critically important to the parties involved.
“Let me also emphasize that the purpose of this historic change is not to lessen the burden on the Supreme Court. Rather, the intent is to free up the state’s highest court to devote more time and energy to the most complex and the most difficult cases that have the greatest implications for the law and society at large.”
Open and transparent courts
• Our 21st century courts must be open, transparent and accessible to all. Our citizens’ confidence in their judicial system depends on it. We must be armed with qualified, certified interpreters, promote arbitration as an alternative to costly, courtroom-bound litigation, ensure that all those who cannot afford lawyers have an avenue toward justice, and be constantly updating technology with the aim of improving our courts’ efficiency while saving literally millions of dollars.
• Our goal is to develop a uniform statewide electronic filing and retrieval system so that lawyers and others throughout the judiciary can file and access data the easiest way possible. Using a single portal, attorneys will be able to file documents with trial courts and appellate courts – and retrieve them from any court in the state
• As Georgia grows, it grows more diverse.  Even for fluent English speakers, the judicial system can be confusing and unwelcoming.
“Chief Magistrate Kristina Blum of the Gwinnett County Magistrate Court has been working hard to ensure access to justice for all those who come to her court, most of whom are representing themselves.
“Recently her court created brochures that provide guidance for civil trials, family violence matters, warrant applications, garnishments, and landlord-tenant disputes. These brochures provide basic information.”
Accountability Courts
• Georgia now has 131 accountability courts, which include drug courts, DUI courts, juvenile and adult mental health courts, and Veterans courts. Today, only two judicial circuits in the state do not yet have a specialty court, and both are in the early stages of discussing the possibility of starting one.
"Chief Judge Richard Slaby of the Richmond County State Court, speaks with great pride of Judge David Watkins and the specialty courts that have grown under Judge Watkins’ direction. Today the recidivism rate among the Augusta participants is less than 10 percent."

In closing, Chief Justice Thompson said, "I thank all of our leaders, and I thank all of our judges who are leading our courts into the 21st century."


To view the 2016 State of the Judiciary address or read the full text, go here.

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