Sandy Springs has replaced its longtime court solicitor and plans to make changes to the Municipal Court, including prosecuting DUIs there and creating a diversion program for people with substance abuse or mental health issues.
The City Council voted unanimously at its May 7 meeting to confirm Mayor Rusty Paul’s appointment of attorney Leslie Donaho as the new solicitor, which represents the city in cases.
Donaho and three-person team will begin their term on June 1. The current solicitor, Bill Riley, has served in that position since the city’s incorporation. City Attorney Dan Lee said the Riley is being replaced only because Donaho had the best response to a request for proposals for solicitor services. Riley’s firm Riley McLendon was one of the five qualified bids, Lee said.
The annual contract for Donaho’s team costs $304,000. Changes Donaho has been tasked with making are expected to save the city $197,500, according to a presentation.
Those changes include the Municipal Court beginning to prosecute DUIs instead of sending them to the county. About 190 DUI cases were transferred to Fulton County over the last year, causing a loss of revenue and requiring the city pay overtime to officers who have to travel to Atlanta for the hearings.
The city also wants to begin a diversion program for people with mental health or substance abuse problems. Incarcerating them does not help the cause of their crime and is costly, Lee said. The diversion program would send eligible defendants to treatment rather than to jail.
“Not only is the right thing to do, but it will save money,” Lee said.
All of the attorney’s on Donaho’s team said they had previous experience setting up similar accountability courts in other counties.
One attorney on Donaho’s team is bilingual, which will address issues with communicating with the 20% of defendants and witnesses who speak Spanish, Lee said.
The solicitor will also now directly handle the discovery process, where each side reviews the other’s evidence, and appeals to court cases.
The changes were suggested by a group that reviewed the Municipal Court’s operations. Police Capt. Jim Fraker, Municipal Court Administrator Cheston Roney, Chief Deputy Court Clerk Brandy Brooks, Finance Director Karen Ellis and Purchasing Manager Charise Glass served on the group.