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Chatham Superior Court Adds A Major Crimes Division

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SAVANNAH, GA -

A major change in the Chatham County Courthouse as Superior Court is split into two divisions.

It's a change that was nearly a year in the planning before taking place one month ago today.

News 3 has been digging deeper to find out why the change was made.

It started with a proposal from Superior Court Chief Judge Michael Karpf. A proposal to make a "Major Crimes Division" within Superior Court that would exclusively deal with crimes like murder, armed robbery and rape. It began the first full week in February. News 3 sat down with those in charge to find out more about the Division's purpose and progress.

In the Division that began February 4th - two Chatham County Superior Court Judges will spend their time hearing only the worst of the worst cases - the major crimes. Timothy Walmsley is one of those Judges. He says, "When you come on the Superior Court - you want to work with the community - you want to be involved and crime is something that many people in the community are concerned about and it's a unique position to be in where you can be involved in moving these cases along." Chief Judge Michael Karpf explains - moving those cases along is exactly why the division was created, "We wanted to move these cases quickly - we wanted to get them tried and resolved quicker - we wanted to highlight the court's responsibility in addressing what is an issue of major public concern."

Chatham County District Attorney Meg Heap explains why that's so important, "A case doesn't get better as it gets older - let me put it that way you know - let's get to the case while the witnesses are still here - they can be located. We have the evidence, the detectives and so far it seems to be doing quite well."

In just it's first three weeks of existence - the Major Crimes Division disposed of 25 cases - including 1 malice murder and 2 aggravated assaults, 12 armed robberies, and 7 sex crimes. Allowing the two judges - with prosecutors assigned specifically to them - to concentrate on the major crimes without being pulled away to handle other cases, helps facilitate that kind of progress. Judge Karpf says, "We were averaging between 450 and 500 felony cases a year per judge - he and i did - we now have around 225 right? Around 225 a year - major crimes - so it's roughly about half of what we were responsible for before - but each one of them of course is a larger event, if I can put it that way - because if they go to trial - it will take more time than any of those other cases that we left behind - more of them are likely to go to trial because they're more serious and the consequences are greater." Judge Walmsley concurs, "It's a smaller case load - but only in the sense that there are fewer cases - but that smaller caseload - they're generally more involved cases and so there's still a significant amount of work to do - it's just that we're able to focus more on some of these larger cases and by focusing on them, we're able to move them more quickly - we're able to have them progress in an orderly fashion that we can track better."

The Judges within the Major Crimes Division will rotate. Judge Karpf will work out a two year term before rotating off - Judge Walmsley will be in the Division for three years - and be the presiding judge when a new judge takes Judge Karpf's place.

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