Ninth Circuit District Judge Shaunathan Bell issues the state of our local judiciary – WHITE

The Ninth Judicial Circuit consists of five judges, two clerks and their associates who handle thousands of cases in DeKalb and Cherokee counties each calendar year. Everyone who works in the system is aware of the impact they are having on those who come to court and on the community.

The judiciary enforces the law passed by your elected representatives in the legislature. US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas summed up the role of the judiciary well when he said: “The job of a judge is to find out what the law says, not what he wants. There is a difference between the role of a judge and that of a policy maker. Judging requires impartiality.”

As your Chair, I believe that the public should be aware of the number and nature of cases that have passed through your local justice system over the past year. In addition, you should be aware of some of the efforts being made to improve your local system.

DeKalb and Cherokee County Courts handled 18,847 cases last calendar year. These cases have included traffic violations, small claims, county civil rights, child support enforcement, juvenile cases, domestic relationships, complex civil litigation, misdemeanor criminal cases and felony criminal cases. Every case handled by the court system begins at the Circuit Clerk’s office in each county.

DeKalb County Circuit Clerk Todd Greeson and Cherokee County Circuit Clerk Dwayne Amos process all documents filed with the court. Their respective staffs are professional, courteous and strive to provide the best service to the people who pass through their offices.

The Circuit Clerk’s also organize juries when necessary, ensure that submitted documents are assigned to the appropriate court and process passport applications. Each court clerk continually seeks to update and utilize the latest court technology available through the Alabama Administrative Office of Courts. Almost every civil case filed must be accompanied by a lump sum legal fee, commonly referred to as court costs. The amount of these costs is set by law. In most cases, the costs must be paid in order for the court to have the authority to hear and decide the case.

From January 2021 through December 2021, the Ninth Judicial Circuit collected approximately $2.3 million in civil court costs.

In addition, various costs are often assessed at the conclusion of criminal proceedings. The costs collected by this side of the court system consist of compensation due to victims of various crimes, fines imposed by law, court costs imposed by regulation, and other estimates.

From January 2021 through December 2021, the Ninth Judicial Circuit collected approximately $2.5 million in criminal judgments. Local courts have established wage check lists to ensure crime victims are compensated for their loss.

It is the duty of the Victim Services Unit of the District Attorney’s Office to assist victims in collecting compensation. Each county courthouse has a Victim Support representative. We all know that victims suffer when a crime causes them hardship. Contrary to what you may think, much of the cost collected by the local judiciary does not remain with your local government. State law provides that these costs are paid into the general fund of the state.

The legislature decides on the nationwide distribution. One of the programs the local judiciary has engaged in over the past year has been the assignment of an arbitrator to assist in handling child support cases. Chief Justice Shaunathan Bell appointed Mr. Colby Matthews, Esq. to this place.

Judges dealing with child support can use this arbitrator to resolve child support cases more efficiently, which in turn frees up court time to handle other cases that the courts need to handle and allows affected children to receive much-needed assistance punctual. In response to a recent study conducted by the Alabama Administrative Office of Courts, the Alabama Chief Justice has asked the governor and legislature to add another district judge position for DeKalb County.

Chief Justice Parker wrote a letter to those branches of government on Jan. 5, 2022, naming DeKalb County as one with an “immediate, critical need.” Over the coming year, your local judiciary will work diligently with other branches of government to secure another position as district judge for DeKalb County, but there is no guarantee that this will be added in the coming year.

In addition to their routine duties, your judges have been hard at work lobbying for infrastructure upgrades at local courthouses. Notable examples of these upgrades include cardiac defibrillators, security equipment upgrades, law library upgrades, and public record access terminals.

Her judges and clerks will continue to work with the Alabama Administrative Office of Courts to secure additional technology upgrades.

Your local judiciary works diligently to ensure your constitutional rights are protected. Judges Shaunathan Bell, Jeremy Taylor, Andrew Hairston, Steven Whitmire and Wes Mobley sincerely appreciate the opportunity to serve you.

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