Dougherty County Probate Judge Nancy Stephenson asks the Dougherty County Commission to consider writing a letter to the local legislative delegation seeking to change state law as it pertains to her court.
ALBANY — Dougherty County’s Probate Court judge asked the Dougherty County Commission to back a plan to change how her court provides some expanded services to area residents.
Judge Nancy Stephenson solicited the endorsement of the County Commission Monday of a bill that would change the threshold at which counties become an “expanded jurisdictional court.”
Currently, she explained, the law is somewhat vague on whether the probate courts in counties whose population is less than 96,000 can offer services such as establishing trusts or making declaratory judgments.
Dougherty County, which fell under 96,000 in the 2010 census, is now in limbo as to whether Stephenson can perform the expanded jurisdictional services or not.
Until the law is clarified — which HB 534 seeks to do — Stephenson is referring all of the people who come to court seeking those services to go to Superior Court in an effort to save money.
“If it turns out that I don’t have the proper authority to do those special actions and someone appeals, that appeal would go to Superior Court, which means they have to have a whole new trial, which is costly to the people bringing the action and to the court,” Stephenson said. “If we lower the population, people can come to Probate Court to have their actions, and if they choose to appeal, the appeal heads to the Court of Appeals where there wouldn’t be a new trial.”
Stephenson said Monday that she’s probably the only person in the state who is really passionate about the law, or who the law would impact, but she feels it’s important for the residents of Dougherty County to be spared the expense of a second trial on appeal.
Stephenson presented a copy of a letter Monday from both Judge Willie Lockette, the chief judge of the Dougherty Circuit, and Helen Kirbo, a local estate planning and taxation attorney, both of whom asked the county to endorse the new bill.
The commission voted by consensus to write a letter to the local delegation in support of the bill.
The bill, which was sponsored by state representatives including Rep. Winfred Dukes, D-Albany, and Rep. Carol Fullerton, D-Albany, must cross over into the Senate before crossover day or risk dying before a vote is taken.