Bulloch County’s two elected prosecutors addressed the local chapter of the NAACP on Monday evening.
Ogeechee Judicial Circuit District Attorney Daphne Totten and Bulloch County Solicitor General Catherine Sumner Findley were the special guests for the April event and both appeared by Zoom to discuss the operations of the office and field questions from participants for the better part of an hour and a half.
Listeners on the Zoom meeting asked Totten and Findley specific questions about how fines and fees are set, who is instrumental in and can set bond, the current backlog of cases, how expungement works in the circuit, and the diversity of the DA’s office and the Solicitor General’s office.
Totten, who has worked in the office since 2003 and was elected as District Attorney in 2020, discussed the makeup of the district attorney’s office across the four county circuit encompassing Bulloch, Effingham, Jenkins, and Screven counties. She explained to NAACP members that six of the 10 assistant district attorneys are assigned to Bulloch County, how the office handles juvenile cases, and the practical operations of the Child Fatality Review Board, which convenes a few times per year to review deaths of children – regardless of whether or not the death stems from a criminal act.
She also highlighted the success of the accountability courts in the circuit, which include a drug court and a mental health court, overseen by Superior Court Judges Lovett Bennett and Michael Muldrew. The programs, which resemble pre-trial diversion but are slightly different with regard to the plea process, dominated a large portion of Totten’s presentation as questions from listeners trickled in about alternatives to incarceration.
Totten shared that a felony pre-trial diversion program is also in the works for the office, with the hopes of launching it on July 1, 2021. The office has been working to coordinate supervisory services that accompany pre-trial diversion programs and has preliminarily organized with JAG Probation because of the company’s office locations in both Bulloch and Screven counties. Totten is working with county officials in Jenkins and Effingham to set up satellite offices in those counties as well, which would allow supervision meetings local to the individuals in the program.
Findley, who was also elected in 2020, shared how her office handles misdemeanor cases ranging from speeding and failure to stop at a stop sign to more serious offenses like driving under the influence and domestic violence. Her office has just four employees, including herself, an assistant solicitor, a legal secretary, and a victim advocate, but that didn’t keep the office from moving thousands of cases in 2020, of which more than 5,000 were minor traffic offenses.
Given the nature of the cases the office handles, Findley said the bond for individuals are set by a schedule and individuals are overwhelmingly released earlier than the court date, barring a probation violation issue, a hold from another county, or some other underlying circumstance. She shared that despite the COVID-19 pandemic and the hold on jury trials for most of 2020, the Solicitor’s Office worked to hold arraignments, enter into pleas, and keep ‘the process’ moving as much as possible.
Both Findley and Totten addressed diversity in their offices at the request of the host. Totten shared that there aren’t currently any African American lawyers employed in the Ogeechee Circuit, but lamented that there has not been too much interest generally when the office has had openings. “We would love to diversify, but I don’t control who applies,” she told the group. Findley’s office, in addition to its size, also lacks racial diversity but 75% of the employees are female. Both Totten and Findley are the first female elected prosecutors for their respective offices.