Bozeman covering Greenville municipal cases

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 29, 2002

Lowndes County District Judge Terri Bozeman has been covering Greenville misdemeanor and traffic cases in order &uot;to help clear an overloaded docket&uot; since early April.

Bozeman released a statement saying she was called in by Presiding Circuit Judge Ed McFerrin to hear these cases and help clear the docket.

&uot;Judge Ed McFerrin assigned the City of Greenville Misdemeanor and Traffic cases to me effective April 3, 2002, to help clear an overloaded docket,&uot; Bozeman said. &uot;The Second Judicial Circuit is comprised of Butler, Crenshaw and Lowndes counties. As presiding circuit judge, McFerrin has the responsibility of making sure that the Second Judicial Court System is run as efficiently as possible; therefore, each district judge takes assignments throughout the circuit as needed.

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&uot;I am working with the Butler County Clerk's Office, the City of Greenville, the District Attorney, and the Defense Bar to handle the cases assigned to me as efficiently and judiciously as possible,&uot; Bozeman said.

When contacted about this matter, Circuit Judge Ed McFerrin declined to comment, as did Butler County District Attorney John Andrews, Circuit Court Clerk Allen Stephenson, Probate Judge Mack Russell, Greenville Police Chief Lonzo Ingram and District Judge Barry Branum.

Branum was originally assigned these cases and, at the present time, there are 758 cases on the docket, with cases pending from as far back as 1992.

Greenville Mayor Dexter McLendon said he knows that Bozeman has been brought in to cover the municipal cases and that &uot;as far as I know, she will be covering these cases from now on.&uot;

Records indicate the court docket had over 2,000 traffic and district criminal cases on it when Judge Bozeman was called to cover them. Eight cases were pending from 1992; one pending from 1994 and 10 cases were pending from 1996. Bozeman dismissed a number of cases and the docket as of May 17 contained 758 cases.

In August of 2000, Butler Countians voted for a $45 court fee to be earmarked for the building of the new Butler County Jail. According to Butler County Commission Administrator Jere Turner, the fees are not being collected because court cases are backed up.

&uot;If they're not collected, then we're not bringing in the money that was expected,&uot; she said.

Turner said that $180,000 of an expected $200,000 was collected last year through the court fee.

The $180,000 includes money collected from cases such as speeding, which is a $168 fine for up to 24 mph over the posted speed limit; speeding more than 25 mph over the posted limit is $188. Allowing an underage driver to operate a vehicle is a $198 fine while allowing another individual to use one's driver's license is a $198 fine.

Blocking, stopping or parking on a highway is a $178 and the same $178 is assessed for driving on the wrong side of the road. Fines in the amount of $158 are levied for failure to dim headlights, failure to stop at a railroad crossing, failure to use a child restraint, improper muffler, improper signal, no helmet when driving or riding a motorcycle and violating a driver's license restriction or endorsement.

Fines in the amount of $168 include: failure to yield right-of-way, following too closely, improper backing, improper brakes, lights or tires; improper or no rearview mirror; improper passing or turn; running a stop sign and running a red light. $173 fines include: improper tag, spilling a load or switched tag.

Hauling an insecure load constitutes a fine of $198 as does not using flags on an oversized load. Failing to comply by completing an annual inspection constitutes a fine of $221 and operating a vehicle without a license constitutes a fine of $223. Littering is a $248 fine as is passing a school or church bus.

Operating a vehicle without insurance is a $398 fine. On the May 17 docket, there were

73 cases of operating a vehicle without insurance. This alone adds up to $29,054 not including court fees.

In Tuesday's Greenville Kiwanis meeting, a forum was scheduled for the candidates for district judge to voice their ideas and opinions on issues facing a district judge. According to Eric Fennell, Kiwanis president, Branum had an assistant call to let club members know he would not be attending the event but his opponent, Probate Judge Mack Russell, said that he &uot;would not be running if I felt Judge Branum was doing his job.&uot;

Russell said the backlog of cases is a problem that needs to be dealt with quickly. &uot;I believe that is important,&uot; he said. &uot;There will be times when a judge would have to take something under advisement and take it back and make a ruling later, but, in most instances, a quick ruling (should be rendered).&uot;

The Probate Judge commented further on the large backlog. &uot;The large backlog

I could say two things: I could say either all the police are working a whole heck of a lot harder and piling up cases faster than they can be tended to since Judge Branum became judgeI could say that,&uot; he said. &uot;I don't believe that to be the case and I don't like to say it. [If I get elected], I'll work hard to get past this backlog. All I can think of is the reason it's there is because the business is not being taken care of the way it ought to be.&uot;

He added that there is no reason for cases to be pending from years ago. &uot;They (those involved in a case) don't want to file a case three years ago and have it still sitting around,&uot; Russell said. &uot;I think there are certain things that are happening right now as far as sentencing and the payment of penalties such as the partial payment plan, which I don't believe in.&uot;

He said he believes that those involved in handling court cases should &uot;just start working at whatever time we need to chop away at that backlog. You want to get the old cases tended to, but you've got to keep the current ones running, too. Right now, there's a judge that's here from Lowndes County, Judge Bozeman, who's handling the Greenville cases and will continue to handle them, I guess, if I am not successful (in becoming elected to the district judgeship). If I am successful, I suppose she'll have the backlog cleared up by the time I take office. She's knocking away at them,&uot; Russell said.

&uot;I don't want to say it isn't rocket science, but it isn't. It is sitting up there, knowing the law, listening to the facts and making a decision.&uot;