Dekalb County Recorders Court is no more. The past year has seen the court go through a turbulent period. The court is facing law suits from several different arenas. The court is being challenged by the ACLU over its use of a private for-profit probation service that seemed to imprison those too poor to pay high fines. The court settled a law suit over responses to open record requests, and still battles one over false arrests due to clerical mistakes. The District Atorney’s office – who were prosecuting cases there – abruptly left in the face of a challenge to their jurisdiction. And to cap it all off, the court may not have had jurisdiction over state law traffic violations in the first place.

In response to these challenges, local leaders have begun the process of revamping the court. Dekalb County State Court judges have stepped in to shore up the jurisdictional issues and remove the private probation company. Dekalb County Solicitor General Sherry Boston’s office has stepped in to prosecute the cases – in some instances personally appearing in traffic court to oversee the transition herself. The next step is two pieces of legislation recently passed through the Georgia General Assembly authorizing the creation of a Non-Jury Division of the Dekalb County State Court. This division will essentially replace Dekalb Recorders Court.

This legislation means that Dekalb County will have a chance at the traffic court it deserves. No longer will the judges be appointed (and reappointed) by County Commissioners that were out of touch with the daily operation of the court, but they will actually be up for popular election like almost every other judge in this state. If a judge does a bad job, he or she can be replaced by election. This is important in a court that comes in touch with more of the county’s citizens than any other.

Dekalb County’s traffic court will now be an extension of the very well managed State Court. State Court probation services will manage those who need to go on payment plans to pay their fines. No longer will a for-profit company be able to imprison drivers who fail to pay fines and probation fees.

State Court clerks will manage records – hopefully cutting down on the numerous errors of the past that resulted in license suspensions and sometimes false arrests. The oversight of State Court should produce a more efficient and well managed court system.

The Dekalb County Solicitors are already in place prosecuting traffic ticket cases in Dekalb County. This has been a night to day shift from the previous tenure of the District Attorneys office in the same role. In the past month, I have not seen a single recommendation that included jail time on an offense where it was not mandatory- which was common with the district attorneys. Gone are the 40 day jail sentences for speeding tickets. In fact, most of the base fines have been lowered or cut in half. Court efficiency has increased as less defendants find it necessary to bindover their cases to State Court.

While there is still much work to be done, as a Dekalb County traffic lawyer I optimistically believe the demise of Dekalb County Recorders Court in favor of the (somewhat awkwardly named) Non-Jury Division of State Court will ultimately result in a better court. We are moving closer to the traffic court that Dekalb County deserves.