Fulton Judge To Hear Lawsuit Over Augusta-Area Court Split

AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — A lawsuit challenging a plan to create a new judicial circuit covering Columbia County will be heard by a retired Fulton County judge.

The Augusta Chronicle reports Senior Judge Gail S. Tusan was appointed to preside over the case on Wednesday after all the judges in the current Augusta Judicial Circuit recused themselves.

Tusan became a senior judge in 2019 after 35 years on the bench in Fulton County.

The lawsuit seeks to invalidate a law passed by the General Assembly this year that would split Columbia County from the three-county circuit that also includes Richmond and Burke counties. Those two would remain as the Augusta Circuit.

The suit contends the law, which takes effect July 1, violates the separation of powers between the three branches of government. The suit says Republican state Sen. Lee Anderson of Grovetown overrode the authority of the judiciary to decide whether new circuits or judges are needed when he introduced the bill.

A workload analysis, based on year-old data because of the pandemic, showed Columbia County has an adequate workload to justify three judges. A circuit of Richmond and Burke counties, however, would have a workload qualifying it for six judgeships. The new law provides for only five superior court judgeships for Richmond and Burke counties.

The suit also alleges the law violates the Voting Rights Act by creating a separate, white-majority circuit, diluting the votes of Black Columbia County residents, and voiding the votes of residents in the three counties who elected the first Black district attorney of the Augusta Judicial Circuit, Jared Williams.

The lawsuit also says the law fails to determine how current cases will be handled in the future.