Denied the chance in the amended Fiscal Year 2019 budget, Georgia Court of Appeals Chief Judge Stephen Dillard requested from the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Public Safety at least two new central staff attorneys in the FY 2020 budget.
“There’s really a dire need for additional assistance — that’s why we asked for at least one (for FY 2019),” Dillard said. “We asked for one last year, we didn’t get it, I understand that. But this year we’re asking for the one that we asked for last year, and also another one. So, we’d be asking for two central staff positions.
“What that would do is it would bring our central staff up to 15, which would match the number of judges we now have with the expanded Court of Appeals. And we feel like that would give us a good, core unit to have handle the additional cases that have come down, that would allow us the flexibility when we have people out in chambers that are sick. That’s happened quite a bit.”
Dillard also asked for one-year term clerks, which the Supreme Court of Georgia received last year. It’s a significant budgetary ask, and subcommittee Chairman Andy Welch, R-McDonough, said it might not be possible, but that he understand the request and sees the benefits to the court, the bar and the public.
“Just so you know, and being candid, we have some challenges in terms of the budget this year,” Welch said. “We have some priorities that I think we’re trying to address with the governor. I’ll leave that with you.”
Dillard responded that in that same sense of honesty, the Court of Appeals issues a large number of written opinions and needs the people to shoulder that burden, which is why he said the central staff jobs are crucial.
“We’re at a point now where I’m worried about us cutting into our core functions if we don’t have them,” Dillard said.
State Attorney General Chris Carr also testified at the meeting, in which he made his pitch for information technology staff and people to help fill out positions needed in Carr’s human trafficking prosecution effort.
“We’ve got some very sensitive data, obviously, that our clients, our agencies that we’re working with them on to have the ability to work with them,” Carr said.
Welch noted that we’re in an era of electronic discovery, so documents are passed between attorneys on large-volume storage drives.
“The department’s need for storage increased by 7,500 percent in eight years — 7,500 percent in volume,” Carr said. “In part, it will help us as we’ve started our opioid litigation as well, and this is a massive lawsuit we’ve undertaken on behalf of the people of Georgia. This will help us as well.”
In regard to the human trafficking prosecutions, Carr said his department needs the funding to fill out a proper support staff.
“We think we can fund two prosecutorial positions internally, but we need four support staff,” Carr said. “If you’re going to do this right, you’ve got to have a criminal investigator, a crime analyst, a victim advocate and an administrative assistant to help with the human trafficking prosecutions unit.”
He said he anticipates human trafficking cases coming to his office through relationships with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, the state Division of Family and Children Services, district attorney’s offices and U.S. attorney’s offices, as appropriate.