The Evans County Commissioners met Wednesday evening for a second hearing for the FY 2018 budget.
Evans County State Court Judge Ron Hallman appeared before the Commissioners to defend his position and what his office does annually after controversy arose when he and Solicitor Bill Callaway both requested a raise. During the May 17 budget hearing, neither Hallman nor Callaway were present, but Commissioners discussed denying the raises for the part-time positions because their $40,000+ salaries already top most comparable counties and both receive $9,400 in insurance benefits. [You can read about the May 17 meeting here]
Hallman told Commissioners Wednesday that he was very angry after news outlets reported he worked 11 days a year (the number of times he appears in court each year) and he was present to clarifying “misconceptions” of what the State Court is, not argue about the budget. “I don’t think the Board has a very good understanding of that, with all due respect,” he started.
“We’re not just a traffic court.”
Hallman went into an explanation of the civil cases, personal injury cases, jury trials to illustrate that he works more than 11 days per year. He said his 11th day of work this year was January 24 and while he admitted those days were not full days, sometimes “30 minutes here and a half a day there,” he said he dedicates a good bit of time to the job. In 2017, he says he has worked 71 days out of 104 so far.
Court meets on the third Thursday of every month but other activities are conducted off-site, Hallman said. He told Commissioners that former Commissioner Neal Hammock once asked him to compute his annual expenses which totaled $20-25k a few years ago.
Neither Hallman nor Callaway utilize the courthouse for space for their elected positions and both instead opt to use their own private law offices and staff. Previous State Court Judges have used the Clerk of Court in her official capacity and Hallman said previous state court judges worked from the courthouse and ran their private law offices from the same office. That practice is frowned upon in many areas, however, as it could be considered to violate the Georgia Constitution’s Gratuities Clause.
“My salary is all I get…except for insurance.”
Hallman told Commissioners he pays for his own office, secretaries, paper, postage, computer, telephone, and copier, and some counties provide those things for their judges.
“My understanding is that you intend to reject the request for raises and that’s fine. I’m in my 15th year…I don’t have anything to gain retirement-wise from staying on. I do enjoy the work. I have enjoyed it more than I ever thought I would, but it’s more work than I ever though it would be.”
“It has been more of a financial disaster than I ever thought it would be. If I had devoted the time to my law practice that I devote to state court, I would be several hundred thousand dollars ahead right now.”
You can watch he video of his comments to Commissioners below:
Posted by All On Georgia – Evans on Thursday, June 1, 2017
“If you’re going to reject the request, do it for the right reasons – not because we work 11 days a year. If you’re doing it because the county is broke, or we have to pay for the hospital bond, or tigthening the budget, that’s fine, but don’t do it based on some misconception.”
As he closed his presentation, Chairman Jill Griffin thanked Hallman for appearing before the Commissioners. Hallman had explained earlier that Wednesday was only his third time appearing before Commissioners in his 15-year career and Griffin said it would benefit Commissioners, especially new ones, if he appeared more frequently to provide updates on the court. Hallman retorted that it is against his code of ethics to interact with Commissioners and Griffin suggested that he simply do so around budget preparation times. Hallman agreed and left the meeting.
Hallman has been the State Court Judge since 2002 and has not yet decided if he will seek another term. The election is in 2018.
At the end of the meeting, the Commissioners voted unanimously to approve the budget as proposed – without raises for any employees. Chairman Jill Griffin and Commissioner Del Beasley both said that some may be reconsidered once the tax digest is prepared and available on July 15.