Cobb commissioners fund Magistrate Court staff to relieve COVID-related case backlog

Chief Magistrate Judge Brendan MurphyChief Magistrate Judge Brendan Murphy speaks at Cobb BOC meeting (screenshot from the video of the meeting)

In a 4-0 vote (with Commissioner Keli Gambrill absent), the Cobb County Board of Commissioners approved a request from Cobb County Chief Magistrate Judge Brendan Murphy to use $1,778,430.05 of the county’s allocation from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 to fund staff positions and part-time judges to clear the backlog of cases brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This first agenda item would fund temporary clerk positions and additional part time judge hours through the end of 2024,” Murphy said while making the request. “It’d be funded through federal ARP funds to mitigate the effects of COVID-19. This funding has been vetted by the county attorney’s office.”

He said that although Magistrate Court stayed open 24 hours per day during the pandemic, COVID-19 had an effect on the court’s caseload.

“Certain hearings were paused, leading to a COVID created backlog,” Murphy said.

“On July 1 of this year, the statewide judicial emergency ended,” he said. “That was the judicial emergency put in place by our Supreme Court. “

“When that ended, courts were required to adhere to rule-based and statutory deadlines,” he said. “In order to do so this package of temporary positions is being requested.”

The written request to the Board of Commissioners described the positions Murphy asked for, and the duration of the funding, as follows:

(That) The Board of Commissioners authorize the extension of one (1) Judicial Program Coordinator (Grade 20) #1965-021; the extension of part-time Judge hours; the creation of the following positions in the Magistrate Court: one (1) Judicial Administrative Tech II, four (4) Judicial Administrative Tech IIIs, and one (1) JudicialAdministrative Tech IV, all through December 31, 2024 or earlier if the funding is no longer available; and theprovision of related personnel technology at a cost of $1,778,430.05; authorize the corresponding budget transactions; and further authorize the Chairwoman to execute any necessary documents to implement said purpose.

“The positions will reduce the backlog in three ways,” Murphy said to the commissioners.

“Number one, by giving help to our new rental assistance division through ERA1 funds, the board had the foresight to fund a temporary position through the end of this year,” he said. “This funding would extend the position through the end of 2024, and give that person much-needed help to help these rental assistance dollars get out the door quicker.”

“Number two, it will assist with a clerk to assist in mediation. It’s always best, (and) we only have one position,” he said. “Now this would provide a second temporary position, so the parties can get together and resolve their cases to the mutual satisfaction of both sides, instead of having the court decide and make one side or the other have their day that way.”

“Finally, (with) more court hearings by having more clerks and more part time judge hours, we’ll be able to clear the backlog in a quicker way,” he said.

BOC Chairwoman Lisa Cupid made the motion to approve the request, and it passed 4-0.

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