Backlogged Recorder's Court causing headache - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Backlogged Recorder's Court causing headache

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SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) -

Going to court to fight a traffic violation may end up being an all day affair, but is safety an issue as the number of cases on the dockets of Chatham County Recorder's Court grow?

The last few months, case dockets have been as high 120 cases every time Recorder's Court is called to session. Two weeks ago, attorneys said the docket was more than 160 cases long.

The situation is so bad, the Chatham County Sheriff's Office said they addressed the size of the dockets and safety concerns with the Recorder's Court clerk Tim Sheppard.

The attorneys who work in the courtroom every day are backing up the deputies. 

"It's got to be a security issue," James Byrne, defense attorney in Savannah, said. "If you go in to Recorder's Court, you will see wall to wall people. All the seats filled. People all the way around the wall. It has to be a security issue for the deputies in charge of our safety. It's got to be a fire code violation somehow."

Byrne snapped a picture outside Recorder's Court as it was in session from two weeks ago showing people crowded outside waiting to get inside, he said, because it was packed in the courtroom. If you get there at 8:45 in the morning, Byrne said, you can expect to be at the courthouse until lunch time, if not later.

"It puts a lot of stress on the judges to clear the docket," Byrne said. "As attorneys, we are there all morning trying to resolve a single case and if you are not represented, you are there all morning missing half day of work."

Sheppard said by phone that this is all news to him and the first he's heard of the docket overload complaint, despite the Sheriff's Office saying they already made their concerns clear.

Sheppard said the number of cases has increased over the last few years, getting thousands of traffic violations every year and thousands more misdemeanor cases from battery to criminal trespass and other charges, which add to their case load.

 He said his office does the best they can with three judges and only two courtrooms and working to schedule cases within the statute of limitations.

Byrne argues, most days, the second courtroom isn't even used. Other lawyers have questioned the overall operation and management of the Recorder's Court.

"There is an empty courtroom next door. Can we not have more dockets? Do we have the resources to do that? Do we have the judges to hear all these? I think these are the questions that need to be asked," Byrne said.

We do know there has been turnover and retirements in the Recorder's Court office causing a backlog of cases.

They also did not hold court on St. Patrick's Day, which may have contributed to recent high case-count dockets.  Sheppard thinks the answer to the issue will be the addition of a new courtroom during the long-planned courthouse renovation.

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