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SHOULD THE CITY COURTS BE ABOLISHED?

IF SO, WHAT SHOULD BE SUBSTITUTED?

PAPER BY
J. E. BURCH,
OF DUBLIN.

In any discussion of the question of the wisdom of abolishing the City Courts of this State, it is necessary, not only to establish the fact that these courts should be abolished, but also to suggest a practical and more satisfactory substitute, for it is a well recognized fact that the City Courts now. handle a vast volume of business that must be taken care of in the re-adjustment. Our judicial system as at present constituted is not capable of handling this vast amount of business without the aid of some court, and should these courts be abolished it is imperative that effective with this action some provision must of necessity be made for this business.

As I understand the question, and as I shall discuss it, the question whether it be best to abolish the City Courts refers to the City Courts as they now exist. If it means otherwise, that is, if the proposition is to abolish the City Courts without establishing in their place some legal agency to handle the business now handled by these courts, the question is not in my opinion, open to argument. To abolish these courts and nothing more would mean a load on the Superior Courts which the Superior Courts could not carry, and instead of relieving or bettering the situation would have the opposite result. As our judicial system ‘now exists it is not only desirable but absolutely necessary that some agency be created before the City Courts are abolished to take care of the immense amount of business now handled by these courts,business that demands more speed in its handling than available without these courts, and also business while legally not so complicated or possibly so important as the business falling within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Superior Courts, is at the same time vitally important to the public and business interests of the State. For these reasons I shall not contend for the absolute abandonment of these courts except as at present existing, as they or some other similar courts are necessary, but I shall take the position that the City Courts of Georgia as at present existing should be abolished.

The purpose for which the City Courts were originally provided was sufficient to justify their creation, and would justify the continued existence of these courts, but for the fact that since their creation conditions have arisen which have produced such evils and faults as to largely destroy their usefulness and at the same time cast their evil effects upon the entire judicial system of our State. When any part of a judicial system fails, or loses the respect and confidence of the public the inevitable result will be that the entire judicial system will suffer. In its contact with the courts the public deals mostly with the City Courts and the conditions there existing are presumed to exist in all other trial courts.

The outstanding defects of the City Courts as now existing are: first, the manner in which they are created, which leads to a multitude of evils, and second, the uncertainty of their existence. All the faults of our City Courts can be traced to these two fundamental defects, and a satisfactory remedy for these defects will eliminate the present dissatisfaction with these courts. These two defects with their attendant evils I shall discuss briefly, and without discussing other reasons for abolishing the City Courts, will I think justify, if not demand, that these courts be abolished.

As aptly expressed in our statute law, “The object of all legal investigation is the discovery of the truth.” It is self-evident that to accomplish this object the agency used must itself be created with this object in view and

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free from contaminating influences, and must not be created or continued in existence for any reason other than accomplishment and enforcement of legal justice. The object of the City Court in its legal investigations being the discovery of the truth and administering justice, is it possible for these objects to be realized when a great number of these courts are created for political reasons and their lease on life depends upon the results of political fortune? We have many able, courageous and upright City Court judges in Georgia, but the tenure of their office depends upon the whim of local politics and under such conditions they cannot do their best.

While City Courts under properly drawn bills are constitutional, courts, they are not constitutional courts in the sense that their creation is certain or existence permanent. The mere fact that legally speaking they may be constitutional courts does not prevent or lessen the evils usually following the creation of many of these courts. If local political conditions make it advisable to establish a City Court one will be established and in its creation is the child of politics, and no court so born can justify its existence. Not only are a large number of these courts established at the will and pleasure of local politicians but in their establishment they have no uniformity of practice or jurisdiction except in a general way and this of itself violates the legal principle that all courts of similar jurisdiction or class should be uniform in jurisdiction and practice. .

We have thus seen that the method of establishing the City Courts is one likely to produce evil results, being the result of local politics in a great many instances, or a desire to create public office for political effect. We will now consider the second fundamental defect of our City Courts, viz.: the uncertainty of their legal existence.

The best results in law enforcement from the standpoint of the criminal division of any court, are obtained

not by harsh or excessive sentences, but by the certainty of punishment, and it can likewise be said that no court can accomplish the legal objects for which it is created unless its existence is certain. If there is any need for a court it is also necessary that its existence be secure and certain. Regardless of temporary waves of public opinion the court must continue to exist and not seek to satisfy public opinion but to enforce and administer the law. To have a court, the existence of which is uncertain, and which is subject to every change of local political sentiment, is to have a court which cannot function properly or be free from political influences. A City Court existing under such conditions can never, even with the best of officials, accomplish the high purpose for which the courts exist. Many of our City Courts are born of such conditions and remain the creatures of such conditions during their uncertain existence; they are established, abolished, and re-established at the will and pleasure of local politics. An unpopular judge or solicitor, a strict enforcement of the criminal laws, or lack of it, or a desire to control the court, can lead and has led to the destruction of these courts, and shortly afterwards the creation of another court created under the same conditions and commencing its existence under the same conditions as its deceased parent. Is it possible for any court so born and so existing to accomplish or even approach the great object for which courts should only be created ?

Courts should be and must be permanent and beyond the reach of local or State political influence, and until their creation and existence are so remedied as to at least remove the two evils discussed, no remedy offered or to be offered is worth the change. Officials of courts may be susceptible to personal and political influences, and this cannot be avoided except by the election or appointment of officials above these influences, but we can have courts whose creation and existence are free from such influences, and to accomplish this is well worth the effort. Until these two defects are remedied the only hope possible is that men of character and ability may hold the official positions of the City Courts and make the best of a bad situation..

If the reasons advanced are sufficient to warrant the conclusion that the City Courts should be abolished, what then is the remedy and how shall it be accomplished ? In an effort to answer this question I shall confine myself to general suggestions only and not attempt to offer any complete plan to remedy the evils of the City Courts.

To me, it appears useless to try any plan which tends only to improve the present City Courts. If nothing more than this can be accomplished then this effort demands our support, but so long as there is hope of bettering the conditions by abolishing these courts and making constitutional provisions for a permanent and adequate system of courts with uniform procedure and jurisdiction, this should be the direction in which we should concentrate our efforts. In remedying the present conditions there are those who argue for abolishing the City Courts and making constitutional provisions which will enable the Superior Courts to handle the business now. handled by the City Courts. There is merit in the argument, and it would certainly better conditions, but at the same time there are serious objections to the plan. To attempt this and then find a need for additional courts, which would probably be the case, might result in the creation of another court subject to the same evils. with which our present City Courts suffer. Any change made should be made after careful study and with a reasonable certainty that the courts established will be permanent and accomplish the desired results. The time and conditions are favorable for a change in our judicial system and it is, therefore, important that the change suggested should be the result of careful study and with an honest effort to better conditions and permanently.

The suggestions made by me in this discussion will be

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