A Fulton County program billed as the “eyes and ears of the community” in the court system has gone unstaffed for nine months amid public complaints. But a hiring is coming soon now that additional county funding has come through, the District Attorney’s Office says.
District Attorney Paul Howard “is actively working to fill the position” of Citizens’ CourtWatch coordinator, according to DA’s Office spokesperson Chris Hopper.
CourtWatch is a community liaison program intended to boost the public presence in the courtroom for hearings in prominent cases, which prosecutors believe can help to sway judges and impress offenders. Prosecutors track cases involving accused repeat offenders or high-profile crimes, then provide that information to the CourtWatch coordinator, who sends out a summary of cases to the public.
But the latest CourtWatch coordinator, Danielle Simpson, left in January and has not been replaced, Hopper said. The job has been advertised online for some time, but had not been filled.
That has frustrated some residents, including members of the Facebook-based anti-crime group Concerned Citizens United. The lack of the CourtWatch coordinator was a major discussion point at an Aug. 8 meeting in Buckhead held by that group and other activists with Fulton prosecutors about a notorious murder at the Capital City country club. At that meeting, the prosecutors urged residents to attend court hearings, but acknowledged the CourtWatch position was unfilled.
Ann Walsh, a Concerned Citizens United member who helped to lead the meeting, said the DA’s Office did not respond to questions about CourtWatch and residents feared it would be permanently unfilled. “It is vital to the community to have a contact within the DA’s office who can be a liaison for communication …,” she said in an email.
The Fulton Board of Commissioners recently approved supplement money for the DA’s Office in what Commissioner Lee Morris, who represents Buckhead, calls “an extraordinary midyear step.” The CourtWatch job was not specifically mentioned in the DA’s Office request, Morris said, but salaries were the general purpose.
“He spent too much,” Morris said of Howard. He said the DA offered unusual higher starting salaries to gain enough prosecutors, and the office had unexpected high expenses in prosecuting Buckhead attorney Claud “Tex” McIver for the high-profile murder of his wife Diane.
Hopper indicated that funding was the problem for CourtWatch, saying that “because of the additional funds from the county, [Howard] will be able to fill the position.”
According to the online job posting, the CourtWatch coordinator salary is $34,987.