Hancock County

Hancock County supervisors seek guidance on creating new court system

Hancock County Youth Court Judge Elise Deano addresses the Board of Supervisors in June. She could be out of a job if a countywide vote approved the creation of a county court office with a full-time judge and staff.
Hancock County Youth Court Judge Elise Deano addresses the Board of Supervisors in June. She could be out of a job if a countywide vote approved the creation of a county court office with a full-time judge and staff. rfitzgerald@sunherald.com File

The Hancock County Board of Supervisors are seeking advice from Jackson on how to best proceed with creating a new county court system.

A county court system would have many duties, including processing lower court appeals, hearing civil cases, and overseeing youth court, officials said.

The court system would be managed by a judge elected from within the county.

Last month, supervisors held a workshop about shifting to a county court system and agreed to continue to investigate creating it.

Under state law, counties which have more than 50,000 residents are mandated to have a county court system. Smaller counties can create one if they choose.

If there is no county court, oversight of youth court falls to the chancery court system.

Currently, Hancock County Youth Court is controlled by a chancery court judge who does not live in the county.

Board of Supervisors President Blaine LaFontaine said Tuesday that he feels Hancock County residents should have a voice in how their youth court is operated.

“I think we are trying to do the right thing here.” LaFontaine said. “Our county will be over the 50,000 residence threshold soon, so it is the right time to create this.”

One of the main issues surrounding the creation of the county court is when an election would be held.

LaFontaine said there are conflicting opinions on whether the county can wait until the 2018 election cycle.

“Some people say that once the governor signs our resolution, then we would have to have an election within 90 days,” he said. “We would like to have it next November. We need to clarify the timeline.”

LaFontaine said county attorney Gary Yarborough is seeking answers from Jackson on behalf of the board.

Meanwhile, LaFontaine said, supervisors will continue to make plans for the transition.

“We are going to iron out the structure and all of the details,” he said. “We may incorporate it into this budget cycle, so that we are prepared for it next year.”

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