Local officials say attempts to split the Alcovy Judicial Circuit likely political

Alcovy Judicial Circuit Court District Attorney Randy McGinley was sworn in by Superior Court Judge Layla Zon in the historic Walton County Courthouse on Jan. 30, 2020.
Photo credit: Sharon Swanepoel

Alcovy Judicial Circuit serves both Walton and Newton counties

A vote of 3-2 by the Newton County Board of Commissioners last week passed a resolution to send a plan to split the Alcovy Judicial Circuit to the Georgia General Assembly for consideration.

The resolution presents a plan that would keep three of the judges who currently reside in Newton County in a Newton County judicial system and the remaining two judges from Walton County in a Walton County judicial circuit. Newly-elected District Attorney Randy McGinley, who is from Walton County, would stay in a Walton County and Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp would appoint a temporary district attorney until 2022 for the Newton County judicial circuit. At that time, an election would be held to elect a Newton County DA to a full terms. The judges in each of the split judicial circuits would serve out the remainder of their terms until they come up again for re-election. Under the proposed plan, Superior Court Judges John Ott and newly-elected Jeffrey Foster would remain in a Walton County judicial circuit and Judges Ken Wynne, Layla Zon and Cheveda McCamy would serve on the bench in Newton County.

McGinley, however, is pushing back on the move, noting that the resolution was snuck in at the last minute on the day of the Commission meeting without any consultation from the Alcovy Judicial Circuit on case loads, budgets, or what the effect would be on cases currently before the courts, and is likely political.

“No one with the knowledge of the Circuit’s court system was consulted before the vote. No one called me, the District Attorney, who has worked in this circuit for about a decade and has more knowledge than anyone about the criminal caseload, the budget of the DA’s office, and how to keep our courts running fairly, effectively, and efficiently. To my knowledge, no judges were consulted. To my knowledge, no one from the Department of Community Supervision, which handles probation supervision and is a Circuit-wide office, was consulted,” McGinley noted in a statement, going on to add, “The County Commission has the power and right to vote on whatever resolutions they choose. But it is disappointing that a vote on a complicated, important subject would be held with so little information on the subject. The last minute addition of this resolution and the vote were based on one thing, and one thing only: partisan politics.”

State Rep. Bruce Williamson (R-Monroe), who was just re-elected to the Georgia House of Representatives and would have to consider the resolution, said he has some of the same concerns.

“I know that it will require legislative approval. That would not happen without a lot of judicial input as well a study of the cost considerations. Chief Judge John Ott would be aware of all of the hurdles and consequences of such an action,” Williamson said, adding “The new waive of radicalized District Attorneys being elected across Georgia is very concerning for those of us who support our law enforcement community. I sincerely hope that the Newton County Board of Commissioners is not embracing that path.”

McGinley, who was Acting District Attorney at the time of the elections in November, defeated his democratic challenger Destiny Bryant largely with 75 % of the vote from Walton County. Bryant, however, got almost 6,000 more votes from Newton County but was not able to overcome McGinley’s support from Walton County.

When the item was up for discussion at the Feb. 2 Newton County BOC meeting, the two Republican Commissioners, Stan Edwards and Ronnie Cowan, noted it was their belief that the move was partisan and attempted to get the matter tabled for 60 days to research the implications to the Newton County budget. However, the motion was defeated 3 – 2, with the three Democratic Commissioners J.C. Henderson, Demond Mason and Alana Sanders voting against the amended motion to table, going on to approve the original motion to approve the Resolution to state legislators. The timeline expressed the hope that it could get through by July 2021.

Mason and Henderson did note the Democratic Party’s frustration at having attempts to elect Democrats in Newton County impacted by the strong Republican influence of Walton County. However, they noted that the size of both Newton and Walton counties individually are as large or larger than Rockdale County, which already has its own judicial circuit.

It remains to be seen whether the Georgia General Assembly will take up the issue during this legislative session.

From Left: Alcovy Judicial Circuit Superior Court Judges Ken Wynne, Layla Zon, District Attorney Randy McGinley, Judges Cheveda McCamy, John Ott and Jeffrey Foster
Photo credit: Sharon Swanepoel

District Attorney Randy McGinley’s full statement follows.

Every day we are confronted with the sad reality that trust in elected and public officials is at an all-time low. Simply turning of the TV or scrolling through social media provides signs of this distrust and examples of why it exists.

This week the Newton County Board of Commissioners, in a 3-2 vote, approved a resolution asking local state legislators to propose a bill that would split the Alcovy Judicial Circuit. No one with the knowledge of the Circuit’s court system was consulted before the vote. No one called me, the District Attorney, who has worked in this circuit for about a decade and has more knowledge than anyone about the criminal caseload, the budget of the DA’s office, and how to keep our courts running fairly, effectively, and efficiently. To my knowledge, no judges were consulted. To my knowledge, no one from the Department of Community Supervision, which handles probation supervision and is a Circuit-wide office, was consulted.

This resolution was added to the agenda during the afternoon of the meeting date, mere hours before the scheduled meeting. It appears that such last minute additions to the agenda are allowed when the matter is urgent or time sensitive. However, not a single reason why this matter was urgent was discussed. Instead, a copy of the proposed bill was already attached to the proposal which clearly indicates that this proposal was already in the works well before the day of the meeting. The late addition to the agenda precluded anyone with knowledge of the court system, the DA’s office, and the potential financial impact to appear at the meeting ready to discuss the matter.

I personally found out about the resolution just hours before the meeting time. I was unable, with such extremely short notice to have someone pick up and care for my 4 and 1 year-old daughters.

The County Commission has the power and right to vote on whatever resolutions they choose. But it is disappointing that a vote on a complicated, important subject would be held with so little information on the subject. The last minute addition of this resolution and the vote were based on one thing, and one thing only: partisan politics.

Splitting the circuit would not be without a cost to the people of the Counties. The DA’s budget from each county split numerous costs. For example, the cost of expensive and necessary software is shared by both counties. The State creating a new DA costs taxpayers everywhere. Judges’ caseloads would grow. This means that it would take longer for cases to be resolved. This means that individuals awaiting trial while in jail would have to wait longer for their day in court. If the speed of cases coming to court was truly a reason, then propose the addition of a State Court.

Additionally, it is impossible to calculate the cost of losing the knowledge of the cases in the office. If the circuit was split, it would be naïve to think that there would not be people losing their jobs, people that work day in and day out to help our communities. With them would go priceless knowledge of open cases. A new DA would have no knowledge about these open cases that would include murders, rapes, child molestations, armed robberies, etc.. I do not know how to put a number on the cost to victims of serious crimes.

To be clear, I was elected to be the District Attorney of the Alcovy Judicial Circuit. Not just Newton County, not just Walton County, but the entire Circuit. I have worked in both offices for years and both Counties will always have a special place in my heart. I hope all elected officials believe what I believe: that I serve the people of my Circuit. They do not serve me. I do not serve only those that voted for me. I serve everyone in the Circuit.

Over the last 12+ months, I consistently provided my cell phone in public forums, on public social media posts, and in public meetings. There is not an elected official that is easier to get in touch with than me. Yet, not a single call was made to me, the person with the most knowledge of the criminal court system and the most knowledge of the District Attorney’s budget. Anyone that has questions about our court system or the DA’s office can call me at any time. As so many are aware, my cellphone number is 404-247-1092.

I will continue to work harder than anyone for the people of the Alcovy Circuit, BOTH Newton AND Walton Counties. The Alcovy District Attorney’s Office will continue to serve the people of this Circuit with distinction, with compassion, and with unmatched dedication.

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