Court backlogs persist in this state because of shortage of attorneys; 'the wheels of justice depend on lawyers'

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Georgia courts are having trouble addressing case backlogs because the state has a shortage of lawyers, including prosecutors and public defenders, the state’s chief justice said this week.

Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael P. Boggs said he appreciated additional funding by the state to help courts recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. But a lawyer shortage is causing problems.

“As you well know, the wheels of justice depend on lawyers,” he said.

The Associated Press and Law360 covered Boggs’s remarks, delivered to lawmakers as part of his State of the Judiciary address in Atlanta.

Criminal cases are impacted by the shortage, leading to more people being held in jail as they await trials, he said.

As of December, the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council, which supports district attorney’s offices throughout Georgia, counted 43 unfilled positions. In July 2020, there were only 11 vacant prosecution positions.

Public defender’s officers are also understaffed, despite a new law that puts their pay on par with that of prosecutors, Boggs said. In Gwinnett County, Georgia, about 80 lawyers were available to represent indigent defendants, compared to about 130 at the beginning of the pandemic.

The lawyer shortage is also affecting civil cases, such as divorce and child custody matters, Boggs said. He noted that 67 of the state’s 159 counties have 10 or fewer practicing lawyers. Seven rural counties have no lawyers.

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