Proposed local legislation that would split the five-county Coweta Judicial Circuit into two new circuits has gotten backing from the Coweta County Board of Commissioners.
At its May 2 meeting, the commission voted to approve and execute a resolution requesting the creation of two new circuits, one consisting of Coweta, Meriwether and Troup counties and another consisting of Carroll and Heard counties.
Fouts provided a brief overview and statistics for the current circuit to the commissioners, adding that District Attorney Herb Cranford “has been working on this for years” and that Sheriff Lenn Wood and Coweta County Superior Court Clerk Niki Sewell have expressed their support as well.
The Coweta Judicial Circuit has the fifth largest population, the fifth highest civil caseload and the fourth highest felony caseload out of 50 circuits in the state, according to the Judicial Council of Georgia’s Administrative Office of the Courts.
The latest available census data estimates the Coweta Circuit’s population at nearly 380,000, with the state circuit average at around 216,000.
It’s a matter of resources, Coweta County Administrator Michael Fouts said.
“We believe splitting the circuit would allow additional resources to provide for … all of the communities impacted,” he told commissioners. “(It) would also assist in the administration of justice for each of these counties by reducing administrative tasks … (and) assist the sheriff’s office in each of these counties by creating a more efficient, speedy process and hopefully create more resources through the jail.”
Cranford also spoke to the commissioners.
“I think (the proposed split) will help substantially resolve cases,” he said.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the five counties in the Coweta circuit had slightly more than 4,000 open cases, Cranford said. There are now more than 10,000 open cases.
“That’s in large part because we lost the ability to try cases,” Cranford said. “Jury trials are the engine of the criminal justice system, and the more prosecutors you have working on cases, the more cases can be made ready for trial.”
Commissioners in Troup and Meriwether counties have approved resolutions asking for the same split, which has been in talks for at least a decade. In 2014, a circuit split study was requested by Carroll County legislators and performed by the Administrative Office of the Courts.
Coweta’s grand jury recommended a split back in the late 2000s.
For a circuit split to take place, legislation will have to be passed by the Georgia General Assembly, requiring the legislative delegations from each area of the circuit to be on board with the move.