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Boggs: Progress to clear Georgia case backlogs ‘has not been easy’

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(The Center Square) — The number of pending serious violent felony cases in Georgia has decreased, while jury trials have increased, thanks to federal COVID relief money, the state Supreme Court’s chief justice said.

“This progress has not been easy,” Chief Justice Michael P. Boggs said Wednesday in his State of the Judiciary, according to prepared remarks. “In some courts, we are still feeling the aftershocks of backlogged cases, but our judges are working hard, and we are making progress.”

Boggs said that in 2021, at the height of the pandemic, circuits reported an average 24% increase in their pending “serious violent felony” cases. However, he noted some jurisdictions reported more than a 100% increase.

Additionally, the chief justice said courts are having trouble recruiting workers and called for lawmakers’ “careful consideration” of House Bill 947, which the House Judiciary Committee advanced last week. The measure would restructure compensation for judges across the state, including the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, the statewide business court, and superior courts and create a Judicial System Compensation Commission.

Under the proposal, Georgia’s judicial salaries would be pegged to what United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia judges make. In a committee hearing last week, state Rep. Rob Leverett, R-Elberton, said the salaries for the federal judges stood at $223,400.

The measure would increase Supreme Court justices’ salaries to $223,400. According to an August 2023 report by the Judicial Council of Georgia, Supreme Court justices’ salaries stood at $186,112 in fiscal 2024.

Additionally, Court of Appeals judges’ salaries would increase to $212,230 — from $184,990 in fiscal 2024 — and statewide business court judges’ maximum salaries would increase to $205,528 — up from $184,990 in fiscal 2024.

The salaries of superior court judges would increase to $201,060, up from the state-paid portion of $141,970 in fiscal 2024. Superior court judges’ salaries vary by circuit and could include local pay on top of the state-funded portion.

Judges have until Oct. 1 to opt into the new system. Based on the numbers, the proposal could initially cost the state at least $13 million in increased salaries.

“Today’s rate of pay is not as competitive as the salaries offered by the courts in the ’80s and ’90s, and this compensation landscape adds another layer of difficulty to our efforts to attract and retain top-tier talent,” Boggs said. “And we must reckon with the fact that this trend depletes our pool of seasoned legal professionals and necessitates time-consuming recruitment and training efforts for their replacements.”