With the start of the new year, Columbia County Probate Judge Pat Hardaway hopes to have an associate judge by her side to help handle the court's rising workload.
Hardaway proposed hiring the associate judge during a presentation to the Columbia County Management and Financial Services Committee meeting this month. The position would require approval by the county commissioners.
If things continue as they have been, Hardaway said she estimates her office will bring in about $400,000 more revenue than projected by the end of the fiscal year in June.
"A lot of it is traffic. It is going up every month," Hardaway said. "Traffic citations and gun permits."
Gun permit applications have tripled compared with recent years. That brings in more revenue, but it also increases the office's workload. If an applicant has something on their criminal record that prevents the permit from being issued, Hardaway said a hearing must be held to explain why it was denied.
Hardaway said the associate judge would work two days a month, mostly handling adult guardianship cases. In those cases, someone is requesting to become the legal guardian of an adult. Those cases are complex, often involving two attorneys and multiple hearings.
"Adult guardianship is probably the most difficult thing we handle," Hardaway said. "And with the increased number of retirees we have in the county, we're seeing more and more of these."
Hardaway proposed paying the judge, who must be an attorney, $4,000 per month, which is based on what attorneys typically charge per hour.
But the funds are available, Hardaway said.
"We stay busy," Hardaway said. "The revenue may be off in other things, but not in the criminal justice system."
The Probate Court has provided more than $476,000 to county commissioners in the first four months of the fiscal year just from traffic court, in addition to $70,000 for probate matters.
"I have the funds, the excess revenue to justify this position," Hardaway said.
Hardaway said in her 29 years as Probate Court judge, she's only missed traffic court five times and said legislation to allow for association probate judges was just approved last year.
"But see, the demands are getting so heavy everywhere," she said.
Hardaway said she doesn't have anyone specific in mind for the associate judge position, but there's still time to find a good candidate.
"There are probably several that would be interested," Hardaway said. "It is too early for anybody to announce any intentions at this point."
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