ALBANY — With seven of nine positions vacant, four due to the firing of employees under investigation in an embezzlement case, Albany Municipal Court will take a 10-week hiatus at the end of the month for reorganization and training new clerks.
Dougherty County District Attorney Greg Edwards requested the Georgia Bureau of Investigation assist in the investigation after someone made a complaint to the GBI about possible theft of money in Municipal Court.
The Albany City Commission unanimously approved at its meeting Tuesday a request from Municipal Court Judge Willie Weaver to suspend nearly all court proceedings for more than two months after the judge made a report on the state of affairs of the court.
Weaver appeared at the session at the request of commission members, who wanted to learn more about the situation.
The seven vacant positions include the chief clerk, deputy clerk and three records clerks. The office also is without a public defender or solicitor.
“I am extremely concerned about Municipal Court,” Commissioner Chad Warbington said. “My reasons (are) we have no public defender; our solicitor just resigned. I am concerned it is closing for 10 weeks.”
Weaver, whose position is part-time, told commissioners that trial cases make up about 2 percent of court cases. The court handles traffic cases that originate in the city from several agencies, including the Albany Police Department, the Albany State University Police Department and Georgia State Patrol.
Most of those who appear in court do so because they do not have the money available to pay their fines, he said.
Although he has the authority to close the court on his own, the judge said he wanted commissioners’ approval before taking that step. During the down time, the office will work to hire and train new employees on procedures, computers, and the software system, as well as other aspects of the job.
Questioned by Commissioner Bob Langstaff and others, Weaver said that he did not know the amount of money that was embezzled.
That is one of the questions investigators are looking to answer, as well as what charges should be filed against individuals involved in the thefts, which took place in the span of apparently about a year’s time.
“The way it should work, we should have communication between us,” Weaver responded.
During an interview following the meeting, Weaver said that he does not hire or fire employees. He can make recommendations, but the decision ultimately is made by the city’s Human Resources Department and the city manager’s office.
Court cases in which defendants are challenging tickets and thus require a solicitor and public defender already are being rescheduled.
Mayor Bo Dorough dubbed the employee set-up a “no man’s land.”
“I’m concerned about closing the court for 10 weeks,” he said. “But based on the circumstances — we’re kind of starting the court all over again. We don’t have employees. We don’t have a public defender.”
Weaver agreed to hear nuisance abatement cases brought by the city on the last Wednesday of March and April after the closing of the office on Feb. 24. The office will be open for other business during the 10-week period, but no other court hearings will be held.