A panel of experts said they plan to release data Wednesday proving that unelected judges in Fulton County are dramatically more likely to put Georgians at risk by releasing criminal defendants in an unsecured judicial release.

Elected judges in Fulton County, meanwhile, are far less likely to release criminal defendants, according to the experts’ statistics.

These experts will appear before a scheduled hearing of the State Senate Public Safety Committee. The committee members will discuss how to reverse Atlanta’s current crime trends. This, according to an agenda sheet on the Georgia General Assembly’s website.

Paul Stewart, with the Gwinnett County-based Anytime Bail Bonding, Inc. gathered the data and sent it to The Georgia Star News this week.

In 2021, appointed judges in Fulton County released 3,497 defendants in unsecured judicial release situations. Fulton County’s elected judges, meanwhile, released 57 defendants, according to Stewart’s data.

Stewart said he also reviewed unsecured bonds in Fulton County between January 1, 2017 through October 16, 2021.

“We have identified 1,917 different offenders during this time period that were given at least two unsecured bonds,” Stewart said in the report he’s compiled.

“This does not account for those offenders that were rearrested and released by some other means. These 1,885 offenders make up 4,328 separate arrests accounting for 9,228 different charges.”

Georgia legislators define unsecured judicial release as any release on a person’s own recognizance that does not require a dollar amount through secured means or property as approved by the sheriff in the county where the offense was committed.

Regarding the 2017 through 2021 findings, Stewart also reported the following:

•  Total number of defendants released via unsecured bonds: 29,711

• Total number of offenses released via unsecured bond: 60,148

• Total amount of unsecured bonds granted: $232,029,552

• There were 67 counts of murder among 36 defendants

• There were 68 counts of participating in criminal street gang activity among 32 defendants

• There were 4,988 counts of family violence offenses among 4,592 defendants

• There were 114 counts of rape among 101 defendants

• There were 7,861 counts of theft among 6,406 defendants

• There were 3,301 counts of failure to appear/bench warrant among 2,597 defendants

• There were 11,106 counts of various drug possession among 9,799 defendants

• There were 2,966 counts of possession of drugs with intent to distribute among 2,295 defendants

• There were 678 counts of entering an automobile among 557 defendants

• There were 564 counts of possession of firearm by a convicted felon among 369 defendants

Pete Skandalakis with the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of Georgia is also scheduled to speak Wednesday.

“Since 1990 until 2014 there was a steady drop in the crime rate in the United States. However, in 2014 the crime rate began to increase and continues to rise,” Skandalakis said via email.

“Not only are we experiencing a rise in crime, especially violent crimes in Atlanta, but we are seeing the same thing across the state and our country. There is no one solution to solving this issue. Elected state and local officials must recognize the importance of a public safety and court system which is adequately funded and handles cases in an efficient and timely manner.”

Skandalakis said that addressing crime requires investing in people.

“The criminal justice system is labor intensive. You need law enforcement officers patrolling the streets, investigators/detectives investigating cases, prosecutors screening and filing cases, public defenders representing defendants and everyone working in concert with each other,” Skandalakis said.

“This work force must be well trained and professional. I will speak of the need for a career track for prosecutors and public defenders in order to keep experienced professionals in our court system.”

Members of the Georgia Association of Professional Bondsman (GAPB) said Monday that two separate things have likely enabled Georgia’s repeat violent offenders to go on breaking even more laws. Unelected judges in Georgia are the first possible cause. Former governor Nathan Deal’s criminal justice reforms, the experts said, are the second possible cause.

– – –

Chris Butler is an investigative journalist at The Tennessee Star. Follow Chris on Facebook. Email tips to [email protected]
Photo “Fulton County Courthouse” by Ganeshk CC BY-SA 3.0.