Should judges have the final say in their courtrooms? People in Evans County are wondering, after a judge tossed out dozens of cases last week. Now other county leaders want the judge out and the cases back in court. The state court judge in Claxton says it's customary for judges to dismiss cases, especially before their terms end. But Thursday's short session has created a stir.
Barbara Nelson became Evans County's first female judge five years ago. Since then, she's handled everything from traffic court to misdemeanor drug cases. But Thursday morning's court session ended after a half hour, when Judge Nelson continued cases involving the public defender and dismissed the rest.
"We had approximately 24 DUI cases in court, some 17 cases dismissed," said Roger Moore, chairman of the county commission. "There were suspended driving licenses cases. There were cases that involved no insurance, cases involving drugs."
Nelson then called back to the sheriff's department and ordered the sheriff to refund all fines and bond forfeitures paid since the last court, which in itself a logistics nightmare.
Nelson's term of office ends in December. Back in August, Judge Nelson lost her reelection bid to Ron Hallman, who had support from several county commissioners and others in the courthouse. But Moore says the county's already trying to shift the dismissed cases to Superior Court until the end of the year.
"I'm drafting a letter this morning to Judge Nelson asking for her immediate resignation," he told us. "We need a state court to function here in Evans County."
We talked with Judge Nelson by phone late this afternoon. She said dismissing cases was common in state court of other counties, and in Evans before she was sworn to the bench. Later, she called back and said she would sign an order tomorrow morning reinstating the dismissed cases. She said the issue was all political, because state court doesn't collect that much money from fines.