- Community Engagement
Magistrate Court Transitions to Virtual Court Amid Coronavirus Pandemic
We have all been working a little differently. Since the Statewide Judicial Emergency declared by Chief Justice Harold Melton of the Georgia Supreme Court due the COVID-19 pandemic, Courts have been working to transition to more virtual ways of handling hearings. Working together, our Justice Partners and County Information Technology, we found ways to get critical calendars transitioned to virtual options for the safety of our Judges, Court staff and community members.
Starting this week, Magistrate Court Judges worked in virtual courtrooms for First Appearance at Rice Street, SB440 First Appearance at Metro RYDC and Non-Complex All Purpose, Plea and Arraignment and Trial calendars. In addition to EWI, our judges tested systems (Zoom, GoTo Meeting, Cisco WebEX, and Court Call), conducted virtual interviews and, with State Court Judge Patsy Porter, maintained contact with our Misdemeanor Mental Health Court participants.
Pictured in virtual sessions are Chief Magistrate Judge Cassandra Kirk, Judge Rashida Oliver, Judge Todd Ashley, Judge Debbie-Ann Rickman and Judge Jeffrey Frazier. A HUGE shout out to Timothy Ezell, Glenn Melendez, Matt Maierhoffer, David Summerlin, and others in the County for making this work. The Magistrate Court of Fulton County will continue to Inform, Engage, Empower Our Community as we assess our operations in light of ongoing developments with the coronavirus (COVID-19).
Misdemeanor Mental Health Court (MMC) Success
The Misdemeanor Mental Health Court (MMC) is a voluntary court program to divert and support eligible misdemeanor citizen-defendants with mental health concerns. MMC is a joint misdemeanor justice project, housed in the Magistrate Court of Fulton County.
Misdemeanor Mental Health Court participants meet specific medical and legal criteria. We accept participants with cases from the jail, identified through First Appearance, as well as those participants after accusation, identified at Plea and Arraignment. Once an assessment determines that an accused person is competent and willing to engage in the process and the current criminal charge is connected to a diagnosed behavioral health concern, the participant is further screened by the team for participation.
The Misdemeanor Mental Health Court strengthens connections between the court system and the mental health community. The program encourages safe and supported release of participants from the jail into the community, including assisting with housing and behavioral health treatment prior to release. MMC enhances the interconnection of participants, crime victims and our community. MMC reduces the incarceration and re-arrest of individuals with a mental health diagnosis and increases community confidence in the criminal justice system; therefore improving the overall quality of life for the entire community.
Misdemeanor Mental Health Court program has had seven graduations since it began as a pilot program in July 2018 and boasts an 80% graduation rate for entering participants.
“Graduation allows a participant’s case to be sealed. This simple action restores our most vulnerable, opening doors of employment and housing once believed lost.” – Chief Magistrate Judge Cassandra Kirk
“Incredible program! Mental Health is key to sustaining successful communities… This program deserves to be expanded broadly.” – Attorney Joshua Schiffer
“Misdemeanor Mental Health Court is truly the light at the end of the tunnel for the participants, their families and our community. Where there has been darkness and little if any hope for supportive services, this Court has helped to fill that void.” – State Court Judge Patsy Y. Porter
The permanent 12 month program will be divided into 4 phases, based on individual participant needs and criminogenic risks.
Magistrate Court of Fulton County Opens their Doors to Community Members for Private Wedding Ceremonies
The Magistrate Court of Fulton County started offering free private wedding ceremonies to members of the community. With the leadership of Chief Magistrate Judge Cassandra Kirk, we have designed a room exclusively devoted to wedding ceremonies. We opened the doors to community members in the beginning of November, 2019 and have completed over 50 free private ceremonies since. The Magistrate Court of Fulton County is happy to be able to offer this service as one of the many ways we are trying to give back and Inform, Engage and Empower Our Community.
With the success of supplementing the Friday weddings offered by Probate Court and to provide a free wedding option during the week, the Magistrate Court of Fulton County has opened its doors to provide a private wedding ceremony for community members on Friday, February 14, 2020, otherwise known as Valentine’s Day.
Click here for WAOK’s write-up and interview with Chief Magistrate Judge Cassandra Kirk on the Magistrate Court’s special Valentine’s event.
Chief Magistrate Judge Cassandra Kirk partnered with Georgia State Senator Donzella James to educate the community on the new laws on CBD and to explore the possibility of CBD as a resource for people dealing with mental health and addiction.
Speakers Dr. Rebecca Fasano, MD, Assistant Professor of Neurology at Emory University School of Medicine, and Deborah Smith-Torrence, Founder of Auspicious Wellness, discussed the research, benefits and drawbacks of using CBD. Community members and Judges were given an opportunity for an open discussion at the Romae T. Powell Juvenile Justice Center.
Statewide Judicial Training on Gangs with GBI
Since the Georgia General Assembly declared, “the State of Georgia is in a state of crisis which has been caused by violent criminal street gangs whose members threaten, terrorize, and commit a multitude of crimes against the peaceful citizens of their neighborhoods...” O.C.G.A. § 16-15-2 the Magistrate Court of Fulton County and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation co-hosted a state-wide training on Georgia’s gang laws. Magistrate Judges across the state of Georgia and those in other classes of courts joined us for this opportunity.
GBI Director Vic Reynolds and Fulton County Chief Magistrate Judge Cassandra Kirk recognized the vital importance of Georgia’s Magistrate Judges increased familiarity with Georgia’s gang laws. These judges routinely consider such issues in determining search and arrest warrants, as well as presiding over first appearance. The event was held at GBI Headquarters in Decatur, GA.
The Magistrate Court of Fulton County boasts a robust Intern Program. And, we are excited to be able to continue our Intern Program in the coming year. Each intern begins their experience with Magistrate Court by observing all Magistrate-led calendars then partnering with the Chief Magistrate Judge and the Deputy Chief Judges to ensure that their learning experience provides direct, practical legal skills and knowledge of court operations in our fast-based setting. Interns will observe various case types (civil and criminal), gain administrative experience (navigate through our case management system, answer phones, prepare reports, develop outreach and social media content, and assist in drafting orders, among a few tasks.) Through this intern program, the Magistrate Court of Fulton County has been able to host students from high schools, colleges and law school.
Legal Clinics with Hosea Helps
The Magistrate Court of Fulton County partnered with Hosea Helps, a non-profit for the homeless community in Atlanta, to provide free Legal Clinics to those in need during their annual Thanksgiving, Christmas and MLK Day dinners. With the help of volunteer attorneys from the metro-Atlanta area, the Magistrate Court of Fulton County offered three successful Legal Clinics. Bringing the Court’s mission to, "Inform, Engage, Empower Our Community" into everyday life. These clinics provided valuable legal services in the areas of civil, criminal, records restrictions, landlord-tenant, family law, juvenile law, veteran service and social security. We are thankful for the local attorneys who participated: Richard Norwood, Josh Schiffer, Tiffini Bell, Samantha Holloway, Jennifer Neal-Jones, Hunter Rodgers, Alan Begner, Noah Pines, Michael Hudson, Savannah Potter-Miller and community members.
Participant Judges included Chief Magistrate Judge Cassandra Kirk, along with Magistrate Judges Todd Ashley, Kimberly Charles, and Chevelle Douglas.
The Magistrate Court of Fulton County partnered with The Music Education Group, Inc. (MEG), Entercom Atlanta and Walmart for its sixth Annual Christmas Toy and Bike Drive to provide kids with toys and bikes for the holidays as a way to give back to the community. Chief Magistrate Judge Cassandra Kirk helped organize volunteers to have the bikes and toys loaded onto vehicles at the Cascade Walmart to be distributed to children.
Coat and Blanket Drive
Chief Magistrate Judge Cassandra Kirk on behalf of the Magistrate Court of Fulton County partnered with WAOK radio and City of Atlanta City Council President, Felicia Moore to gather coats and blankets at Beulah Heights University. Within a few hours, over 10,000 garments were collected for families during this winter. Many of the coats and blankets were distributed that evening as the temperatures dipped into the 40’s. Deputy Chief Judge Lillian Caudle and Judge Vera Starks also joined in on the Courts efforts.
Toy Drive for the Holiday Season
The Magistrate Court of Fulton County partnered with Making A Way Housing, Inc. to supply toys to kids during the Holiday season. Toy Drive bins were located in the Magistrate Court Administration, Marshal’s Office, and the Juvenile Justice Center. The bins were filled with donations from throughout the courthouse. Chief Magistrate Judge Cassandra Kirk was among the many elected officials on scene to witness the joy of Atlanta area children receiving these bikes and toys.