Oconee probate judge candidates Mike Hunsinger, George Roberts and Jimmy Williams all agreed that court-related application processes should be streamlined in the near future.
The Probate judge’s office has to oversee traffic offenses and applications for items such as marriage licenses, firearms permits, wills and guardian/conservatorships.
Hunsinger later pointed out that the Probate Office’s caseload will grow as the county’s population grows.
“Right now, the county has about 5,000 cases a year that it sees,” he said, “and if you pair that down, that’s about 200 cases a court date. If half of those people pay their fines, and you only have 100 people coming in, that’s [still] a full day of court.”
Hunsinger said he expects the caseload will also grow in the future from more elderly people needing to have more guardian/conservatorships seen in court.
Williams explained he already has some purview over some of those processes as E-911 communications chief.
If people get an application for any service that requires a criminal history background check, that application gets sent to the sheriff’s office and subsequently to a 911 dispatch communications officer, who actually conducts the check.
“Then it comes to my office, I sign off on it and then it goes back to the courthouse,” Williams said. “If I'm elected probate judge, I would like to streamline those processes. I would like to take that and have it in house.”
Roberts added that staff at the probate office told him that after some training, they would be OK with fingerprinting and running criminal history checks themselves.
Even with the judicial state of emergency, Roberts acknowledged that the Probate case backlog is not new.
“I have yet to see a judge with the Superior, Probate or Magistrate courts who does not have a backlog of cases,” he said. “You just have to work it and you get through them as fast as you can and as efficiently as you can.”
Williams said that whomever becomes the Probate judge will likely have to work with the other judges and prosecutors to divvy up cases and send some to the Magistrate or Superior courts.