After starting the year in January with demands from civil rights lawyers to end its use of money bail—keeping poor people in jail on minor offenses while letting those with cash bond out—the Atlanta Municipal Court responded quickly, ending the practice within the month. The Atlanta City Council made it official in February, endorsing signature bonds for petty crimes.
Now the court has taken another step under the direction of a newly chosen chief judge. Chief Judge Christopher Portis announced last week he has created an Improvement Task Force to study the court and recommend meaningful reforms to its operations over the next year.
“The Task Force is a great opportunity to get feedback and ideas on how the Court can better serve Atlanta moving forward in the 21st century,” Portis said in a news release. “The Task Force will help shape the Court’s future, its commitment to justice, and quality of service.”
By administrative standing order, Portis commissioned the task force for a 12-month term. He has asked the task force to issue a report and recommendations to him at the conclusion. A key part of the task force’s purpose will be recommending best practices and updated operational models, in an effort to further promote access to justice and ensure public safety, Portis said. Accountability and transparency are driving factors behind the need for the task force, including updating policies and procedures that drive the court’s day-to-day operations. The chief judge said the court is one of the busiest in the region by volume of new cases daily, and needs to ensure operational policies remain current and that the justice system is responsive to the community it serves.
The chief judge will serve on the task force, along with legal experts familiar with practice before the Municipal Court of Atlanta, City Council members, and a representative from the office of Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.
In addition to Portis, the members are:
• George Lawson of Lawson & Thornton • Steven Weiner of Weiner Law Group • Michael Miller of the Law Office of Michael Miller • Deputy Court Administrator Rashida Davis • Fulton County Solicitor General Keith Gammage • James Rodatus, policy analyst for the Administrative Office of the Courts • Deputy Chief Clerk of Court Kyra Dixon • City of Atlanta Solicitor Raines Carter • Atlanta Public Defender Kenneth Days • Dustin Hillis, Atlanta City Council District 9 • Andrea Boone, Atlanta City Council District 10 • Andre Dickens, Atlanta City Council Post 3 At Large • Shani Godwin, President/CEO, Communique-USA Inc. • Chief Patrick Labat, City of Atlanta Department of Corrections