Court Cost Study

The Administrative Office of the Courts is well known for its efforts to collect caseload data from Georgia’s trial courts. What many do not know is that the AOC also collects judge and judicial staff salary data. “I would say questions about caseload and salaries are among the most common questions AOC Research is asked,” says Mr. Christopher Hansard, Research Program Manager.  Based on high demand for the data and declining response rates to their surveys, last year Research rethought its approach to the traditional salary survey and expanded it into a two-year project.

The newly entitled Court Cost Study is designed to be a two-year project divided into two phases.In Phase One, Research distributes a survey to county finance offices to obtain the salaries and benefits of judges, judges’ immediate staff, and court administration employees for all classes of courts. In Phase Two, Research conducts case studies in select counties to develop a comprehensive accounting of local governments’ operating costs of all classes of courts. This two-phased approach will allow Research to present a comprehensive analysis of local and state government court cost in a way that was impossible with the old salary survey.  According to Ms. Molly Perry, Court Services Director, documenting the distribution of court costs among local governments and the state will allow legislators and county and municipal officials to better understand the financial footprint of the state’s courts.  

After beta testing and editing the Phase One survey, staff disseminated it to all counties in February 2013.  The AOC will survey municipalities later in the year.  Research Analyst Ms. Kimberly Miller reports that at the beginning of March, over 50 percent of Georgia counties had responded to the Phase One survey. “We have learned a great deal about how counties finance the courts just going through the survey process.  We will definitely be able to take what we learned and improve future court cost studies,” she says. 

To begin Phase Two, the AOC requested assistance from students attending the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State University.  A team of students completing their master’s degrees in public administration are working in coordination with the AOC to conduct three case studies  The Georgia State team is studying three counties: Gwinnett, Harris, and Long.   These counties were chosen to represent Georgia based on geography, population, presence of State Courts, and circuit-type.  Gwinnett County is a single county, urban circuit in the northern part of Georgia with a large population.  Harris County is situated in a sparsely-populated, multi-county circuit in middle Georgia.  Long County is in the southern part of the state in a multi-county circuit with a state court.  The team’s findings will be presented to the AOC in May.  The AOC will use these as a starting point to examine more counties as part of Phase Two

For more information, please contact Mr. Christopher Hansard at christopher.hansard@gaaoc.us or 404-463-1871.

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