State Rep. Wendell Willard, R-Sandy Springs, has introduced legislation to delineate the terms and duties of the Fulton County courts' chief judges. It also would mandate that the county's chief magistrate be elected, instead of appointed by bench, among other things.
Willard said his bills follow up on recommendations last year from a task force studying the Fulton County court system.
Under House Bill 443, current chief magistrate judge Stephanie Davis will serve until her term expires in December, 2014. The governor will appoint the next chief magistrate for a four-year term, and later chief magistrates will be elected on nonpartisan ballots.
Other legislation gives the chief judges of the Fulton state and superior courts more authority to assign their fellow judges particular dockets, such as the specialty courts that handle drug and mental health cases, and to remove those judges from those dockets if necessary.
The bills instruct clerks and administrators of each court to generate monthly reports on each judge's caseload, number of cases assigned and number disposed. The lack of such a record in the state court was deemed partly to blame for an incident last year in which several years of criminal case files were mislaid by a clerk for Judge Susan Forsling.
Two bills will give the administrator of each court more authority to manage court budgets without having to get approval from the county commission for each line-item change.
"[The legislation] is necessary because these are such large courts; they've got more than 20 judges in the Superior Court, plus senior judges; 10 more in the state court, and all the magistrates," said Willard, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee and served on the Fulton County Court Improvement Task Force that made the recommendations.
On Friday, the first bill in the package, HB 437, passed the House, 163-0.