Decatur changes municipal court restructuring plan after attorneys object

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt June 23, 2015
The city of Decatur Municipal Court. Photo by Dena Mellick

The city of Decatur Municipal Court. Photo by Dena Mellick

The Decatur City Commission backed down from a plan to restructure its municipal court after the president of the DeKalb Lawyers Association said it could lead to less diversity on the bench.

Commissioners had considered approving a plan that would appoint one part-time chief judge who would work 20 to 25 hours per week. It’s estimated this reorganization would’ve saved the city $25,000 per year. The city has been using four part time judges to handle municipal court cases.

Mawuli Davis, President of the DLA, got into a back and forth with Mayor Jim Baskett during the June 15 City Commission meeting over the plan.

“The first proposal, it would do away with the current very diverse bench, so we would lose the very thing that’s valuable in this process,” Davis said.

Baskett said Davis was making assumptions about the way judicial appointments would be handled.

During the meeting, commissioners instead opted to approve a proposed alternate plan. Instead of one part time judge, the commission will now appoint a chief judge in addition to its four regular judges. There would be no substitute judges, and all five would have to ensure that all court sessions are covered. The chief judge would earn 10 percent more than other judges and would have to handle administrative work. The chief judge would also meet with the other judges, court staff and the city manager’s office.

“This alternate scenario anticipates retaining the current bench and hopes that the current judges will apply for the chief judge position,” a memo from Assistant City Manager Andrea Arnold says.

Part of the intent of the proposal was to create more consistency in the municipal court process, Baskett said.

“If this works and it does do the kind of things we want in terms of what’s needed and setting some consistency, if it achieves that we’re good to go and if it doesn’t we can then consider down the road a more drastic change,” Baskett said. “It’s a good interim step.”

Davis said after the meeting he was happy with the commission’s decision.

“It’s definitely a preferable outcome because the initial proposal was such a drastic restructuring,” he said.

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