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How will Fusus Affect Community Safety and Life in Cities Like Peachtree Corners?



Technology has advanced so much in the realm of safety and surveillance. While in the past, surveillance cameras could help police officers solve a crime after it happens, there are technologies that allow law enforcement to catch criminals in rapid response. Peachtree Corners based company Fūsus is solving these problems in crime response and detection with some amazing technology. CEO Chris Linendau, guest on today’s episode of Peachtree Corners Life, sits down with Rico to discuss exactly how that technology works and will be integrated into our community.

Listen to “How will Fusus Affect Community Safety and Life in Cities Like Peachtree Corners” on Spreaker.


Fūsus Website: https://www.fusus.com

Connect Peachtree Corners: https://connectpeachtreecorners.org

Timestamp Where to find it in the podcast:

[00:00:30] – Intro
[00:02:10] – About Chris and His Background
[00:04:03] – Fūsus Presence in Peachtree Corners
[00:06:18] – The Registry and How it Operates
[00:11:48] – Working with Pre Recorded and Live Video
[00:13:48] – AI and Recognition Technology
[00:17:21] – Second Phase Roll Out
[00:18:59] – Working Across Agencies
[00:24:53] – Choosing Peachtree Corners as a Business Location
[00:28:05] – Closing

“We’re not just talking about being able to solve crime faster. You’re talking about possibly interdicting, actually responding to an incident in real time. And if you think about law enforcement and they talk about that golden 48 hours.., you’ve got really the highest probability of capturing the suspect in that first 48. Well, let’s talk about the first 48 minutes. Think about how much we can do in real time.”

Chris Lindenau

Podcast Transcript

[00:00:30] Rico: Hi everyone, this is Rico Figliolini host of Peachtree Corners Life, and several other podcasts that covers the City of Peachtree Corners. We have a great show today that we’re gonna be talking with Chris Lindenau, CEO of Fūsus, which is actually based in Peachtree Corners. Hey Chris, how are you?

[00:00:46] Chris: Hello Rico. Thanks for having me on.

[00:00:48] Rico: Sure, absolutely. Before we get into the show, I just want to introduce our sponsor, which is EV Remodeling. They’ve been a corporate sponsor of ours for the past few months. And they’ve been supporting our journalism, not only on these podcasts, but through the magazines that we publish. So you can reach out to them. They’ve been a great supporter of ours. They are also based in Peachtree Corners. So speak to Eli, who’s the owner at EV Remodeling Inc. And you can find that at EVRemodelingInc.com. So let’s get right into it. Technology has advanced so much as far as the last few years. And we’ve gone from, you know, having a Ring on the door, on the front door, just to see if that UPS package came or if it’s been taken. But nothing else to be able to do with this. Some people say, well, you know some of this technology is really not helpful except that it shows maybe in the post event of what happened that maybe some crime occurred. And maybe sometimes it could be used to find someone. But in the move from going from Ring and smart devices that’s out there, to a bigger drive of not just private and commercial safety, but community safety, there’s been a big void, right? I mean, you have Ring, you have a bunch of other devices out there. And even when I look at my home and say, well, I can have several different devices, they’re not all talking to each other.

[00:02:10] Chris: Right.

[00:02:10] Rico: You’ve sort of solved that. Right, Chris? I mean, your background is military. I mean, it’s a great background to have, coming into this. So in fact, let me take a step back. Give me a short two minute bio, if you will, of your background in your experience, and then we’ll jump right into the rest of it.

[00:02:26] Chris: Sure. Former military officer, graduated from the Naval academy. Like so many, you know, military personnel kind of transitioning into the private sector, you kind of think about, what’s next? I always kind of had an affinity for technology. It was always something that I enjoyed. So I decided to get into the manufacturing sector pretty early on in my private sector career. First with Panasonic, and then eventually transitioned to a large space and defense manufacturer called MOOG. Building a lot of things for, you know, the likes of General Dynamics and Raytheon. And then subsequent to that I actually, for the first time in my career got involved in public safety with a company called Utility that was building among other things, body cameras and in-car video systems for law enforcement. And so if you look at where we are now, and the company that I founded back in June of 2019, it was really an amalgamation of all of these different skill sets that I’ve kind of picked up. Not only in my private sector career, but also prior to that, my military career.

[00:03:25] Rico: Wow. Just a lot of background in safety and crime and helping certain agencies like that. And you’re right. I have a lot of friends that have been on the police force and military, and it’s amazing where they’ve gone when they’ve gotten out of that. So your company provides what’s being called real time crime center in the cloud, right? it’s working not only across the country with California agencies transforming the way they operated within their communities, providing safety to the communities that they represent. And building stronger relationships it seems, between the businesses and citizens within those communities.

[00:04:02] Chris: That’s right.

[00:04:03] Rico: But you are also in Peachtree Corners and you’re based in Peachtree Corners. And just recently the city actually signed a contract with Fūsus to be able to do some stuff here in the city. So can you sort of explain a little bit about what that agreement entails and where we are with that?

[00:04:20] Chris: Yeah, sure. So, you know, the Real Time Crime Center in the cloud platform is really a public-private partnership platform. It allows law enforcement agencies like Gwinnett County PD here in the West Precinct, which covers Peachtree Corners. Which is obviously where our headquarters is, and that’s where the contract is that you’re referring to our city here in Peachtree Corners. What it allows them to do is basically aggregate data sets throughout the community. And this is important for a number of reasons. First off, if you look at law enforcement as a whole, you know, subsequent to the George Floyd incident in Minneapolis. Which incidentally we were the platform that they used during the protest movements, and then subsequent to that, leading up to the trial. The old approach to just kind of putting police officers out on the street and having a kind of physical presence, in cities that were faced with shortfalls and budgets, in the case of Minneapolis, they actually removed at the time $8 million from the police department’s budget. And of course with that, the resources for a lot of police officers in that city. So, they were faced with an increased level of public safety need, but not the personnel resources necessary to address that need. And so that’s where technology comes in. Fūsus for the city of Minneapolis, like we’ll be doing here in Peachtree Corners, essentially builds a bridge to the private sector. So it allows the business communities, video cameras as an example, in public facing areas. Areas where vehicular traffic may occur, parking lots, entryways to buildings, you know areas of public domain. Those cameras oftentimes capture incidents. And they can be life safety incidents, they can be criminal activity. And I think Rico you’ve documented in prior podcasts, some of the prior activities that have been captured by our friends over at GCPD and their hardworking officers. Well, that just expedites that process even further. So this contract that you’re referring to is basically the phase one of that public-private partnership

[00:06:18] Rico: So, if I understand correctly, there’s a program out there, I think it’s called Connect Peachtree Corners, where essentially not only are you being able to wire, if you will, or to bring into the network or the cloud, private companies and city cameras. But you’re also looking to register citizens, home residents, cameras, Rings, other cameras that might be outward facing to roads and stuff. Voluntarily where citizens like myself, if I have a Ring or an outside camera or two, that I can actually volunteer to register to say, I have this here if you need it. And you’re Gwinnett County police and something happened in this neighborhood and you need that. They can literally know exactly where it is, versus canvasing a hundred homes to find out if any of them had a Ring and if any of them were working. So that’s truly part, I think of expanding what you’re doing, right? Being able to provide that.

[00:07:15] Chris: Yeah, and there’s some nuance to it because what we’re doing with ConnectPeachtreeCorners.org, the platform, the website that we’re going to use to basically enroll willing participants in this public-private partnership is really targeted towards the business community. So, you know, in phase one and at least for the foreseeable future, this is really not to bring homeowners’ Ring doorbell cameras into the network. It’s really more designed for Peachtree Parkway, Spalding, the businesses that kind of line those roads. And of course, on those businesses, on the front of the buildings, on the rear of those buildings, are oftentimes as we all know cameras. And that’s invaluable data for all sorts of situations that law enforcement might need to respond to. So that’s really where we’re focusing in concert with our friends with the city, city manager and his staff, and our friends over at GCPD, is to really build a platform so that the business community can contribute in the live video streams. Now there is also something called the Registry Rico. And this is what you were referring to.

[00:08:20] Rico: Right.

[00:08:20] Chris: And the Registry is a free service that basically says, my name is Chris, I have three cameras, here’s my email address, here’s my phone number, and this is the name of my business. And that’s a free service. And that’s huge because that tells the investigators where they need to go if there is a incident in an area to ask for video evidence. And of course what they do in the Registry is they simply bulk request out to everybody in an area. If you can think of like, just drawing a circle around an area.

[00:08:51] Rico: Sure.

[00:08:51] Chris: And then they can send a digital request. And of course it’s completely voluntary. You know in both cases, the Registry and the live sharing of video for public facing cameras, we’re only asking for people to share of their own volition and they can remove themselves from the program at any time. So there’s no unilateral access on the part of the agency. It’s completely donor contributed and controlled by the donor.

[00:09:16] Rico: With the live feed aside from the citizen part, then that’s a Registry. With the live feed, which includes private companies, commercial cameras, city public cameras. For example, town center has like maybe 80 cameras. There’s a bunch of cameras going down Peachtree Parkway and other intersections, and there’s even cameras the city is willing to pay and put out on outside streets, like near subdivision and such.

[00:09:43] Chris: Right.

[00:09:43] Rico: So all those would be live cameras that if Gwinnett police had something going on, if there was a robbery, a burglary, a shooting, something somewhere, an abduction, that they can follow that track down a road, let’s say. And they can literally pull up those videos?

[00:09:59] Chris: That’s exactly right. And actually the way you described it, Rico, is almost identical to the way that law enforcement uses video technology. I was with an agency the other day and they used through Fūsus in an urban area, they tracked a homicide suspect. As they went from camera to camera to camera. And then they followed that homicide suspect as they exited their vehicle into a business, and then through that business. And with the request for video from that business, they were able to identify the facial image of that suspect. And so having that video, if you will, chain of custody where you see where a suspect has transited through an area is of extraordinary importance. And we’re not just talking about being able to solve crime faster. You’re talking about possibly interdicting, actually responding to an incident in real time. And if you think about in law enforcement and they talk about kind of that golden 48 hours, the first 48 as it’s sometime called after a homicide occurs, you’ve got really the highest probability of capturing the suspect in that first 48. Well, let’s talk about the first 48 minutes, right?

[00:11:12] Rico: Right.

[00:11:12] Chris: Think about how much we can do in real time. If information is shared appropriately while of course also maintaining people’s right to privacy. And that’s the other component of this, which is, it’s important to note that we’re not talking about cameras inside people’s living rooms, or we’re not talking about doorbell cameras facing off the side of someone’s home, facing a neighbor’s home. We’re really talking about major thoroughfares, parks, public areas, areas that are already under surveillance where the officer may in the past have to physically go to that location to acquire video. Now they have actually the ability to use that data in real time.

[00:11:48] Rico: So let’s stay with that for a minute because I’m curious, I have a few quick questions regarding that. So I’m in front of these screens, these monitors and I see where I wanna be, but I know I just missed seeing that. Is it like DVR? Can I reverse that feed to be able to see a few minutes before? Is that possible to do that?

[00:12:07] Chris: It is. And we call that a Prerecord Buffer. So, you know, that buffer is configured. So typically what we’ll see with like city owned cameras, you know, they’ll keep the buffer for a few days and sometimes businesses will only share live video. Other times they may share live and maybe some prerecord buffer that they’re comfortable with. A lot of times that’s three or four days. But you know, when you talk about incidents that are unfolding in real time, you really aren’t talking about needing data a week in the past or a month in the past, that’s more of a forensic activity. What we’re talking about is real time access to data.

[00:12:40] Rico: And during that real time access, I’m sure there’s data showing up on the screens. It’s almost like sci-fi right? Like it’s almost like what you see going on you know, near future type stories. And there may be data on there because some of these cameras may be license recognition, plate readers, and stuff. So with that, they could pull that up as well at that moment. So cars passing by they’re following it down the line.

[00:13:02] Chris: Beyond just pulling up the license plate reader, think about pulling that up in context with surveillance video. So now you know where the vehicle was at the time. So now you have a time mark, where you can pull up the closest available live surveillance feed, and you’re seeing both in concert. Think about how officers would’ve responded to that in the past. They would’ve actually physically gotten in their car and driven to a location that they hoped that a suspect would drive past. Now they’re using what we consider to be more of an intelligence led policing approach. And that not only helps them do their job, but it also makes best use of taxpayer funds, right? Because now you’re not just throwing personnel resources at a challenge, you’re actually using technologically enhanced response methods.

[00:13:48] Rico: Yeah, absolutely. And I think, I could go further and just say that, I think that if they’re following someone down the road, instead of ending up being a police chase, a car high speed chase somewhere that actually can be ahead of where they’re going almost. Throw out the chain and blow out the tires. I mean, and we’re talking about cars, but it could be someone on foot as well. To be able to see where they’re going if they fled the scene. More eyes on the street, if you will. To allow other surveillance to be enhanced with what they’re doing, like you said. So, I mean, I see a lot of possibilities. Now, to dig in a little bit more, you know, we talked about privacy before. Facial recognition is part of what a lot of people know about, right?

[00:14:30] Chris: Right.

[00:14:30] Rico: Because your iPhone can recognize you, you know, it’ll open an app based on your face and it almost doesn’t matter what you’re doing sometimes, unless you’re doing like a blow up face, then it might not recognize you, right? But using AI, using machine learning, being able to recognize that is not necessarily part of what you’re doing. It could be done later, but it’s also used for identification as well, no?

[00:14:54] Chris: Yeah. So artificial intelligence is kind of a broad term and it gets thrown around quite a bit. You know, at Fūsus we kind of simplify that. So when we talk about what we’ve built, you know, we have data scientists on our team, our research and development team. And what these data scientists do is they basically identify the fact that you have a white shirt on. I have a dark shirt on. And so if I’m looking in video for a missing person or an injured person, and they’re in a park and the 911 call comes in and that call says, well, this person’s wearing a white shirt. That alone may take what is a thousand people in that park down to a hundred, right?

[00:15:34] Rico: Right.

[00:15:34] Chris: So now you’re, by a large extent, really making that area of focus more constrained and that helps them in a real time response scenario. Take that one step further, Rico you’re wearing a bag on your back, right? So now a hundred becomes maybe ten. And then we’ll add in there that you have blue jeans on, for example. So now, that ten goes down to maybe two. And so artificial intelligence in our world is really just a way to kind of take what is a large, broad view of video and really kind of funnel that into something that’s actionable. Because you know what you’re looking at Rico, you’re dealing with human beings, right? And there’s this concept of information overload. And so there’s diminishing marginal returns, obviously on investment. As you add more cameras in a city, you can’t just stare at more cameras on a screen and have a better idea what’s going on, right? It’s inversely proportional, right? So what AI does is it’s kind of the equalizer. It says, listen, these cameras are now smart. And they act almost like an alarm. We’re missing a child that was wearing a backpack with a white shirt and blue jeans. Now our cameras in the city of Peachtree Corners can look out for that missing individual and then signal to the officers that, hey, we may have a possible match. And obviously that can make the difference between saving that child’s life or them being taken out of the city limits. And that’s obviously what we’re trying to do.

[00:17:04] Rico: Right. And so for an individual to hear that, that doesn’t just mean that they’re looking at other screens to say, there’s a child with a backpack. Literally the system is recognizing that and will show those images on the monitor as the police are investigating it I imagine.

[00:17:20] Chris: That’s exactly right.

[00:17:21] Rico: You know, the platform roll out that you’re doing in Peachtree Corners is pretty much what we discussed just now, right? That first phase, so I imagine there’s a second phase. So what would be involved in a second phase of this?

[00:17:35] Chris: Well I think right now that’s kind of TBD, but expansion is really, you know, our area of focus. I mean as we bring in more community businesses, you know, the network effects take hold, right? The value of the system to you and I as citizens of Peachtree Corners increases proportionate to the buy in from the business community. You know, as more video sources and more alarms are put into the system, the situational awareness of our West Precinct assigned Gwinnett County police officers improve. And as such the thought process is, their ability to provide us public safety improves as well. So phase two is really at this stage, thought to be more of an expansion upon phase one. In phase one, we’re looking at really developing kind of a critical mass of adoption. And I think we’ve identified some businesses, some areas of interest that we’d like to reach out to and encourage their participation. And then hopefully, obviously, bring solutions to, you know, issues that we’re all aware of or now becoming more well known in Peachtree corners in terms of public safety. So that’s where the rubber hits the road. Does the system help GCPD provide a better service to us as a community? And that’s where, you know, I think we’ll be keeping a close eye in phase one and making sure that our progress is measurable and defined. And then candidly, that that’s something that, you know, as GCPD talks to members of the community, through the Cops Forum that they can report, you know, when they have their cops meetings.

[00:18:59] Rico: Not only GCPD, I mean the system actually, because of the way the platform is set. Not only can it use multiple different technologies, be drawn into a different cameras and such, different operating systems, I guess, right? But you’re talking across agencies too. So it’s not, let’s say something happens here, but all of a sudden that perpetrator is going into DeKalb or Fulton County or the City of Doraville or Brookhaven. If they’re all wired within the system, there’s really nowhere to hide to a degree, right? If you’re a criminal. I mean, is that the goal to be able to do that?

[00:19:35] Chris: Yeah. Rico, we always say, you know, criminals don’t know jurisdictions, right? They will transit from one jurisdiction and into another to commit a crime and then go back. And that may be the jurisdiction that they live and is different from the jurisdiction that they commit the crime. And so for years and years and years technology was siloed. Camera A, didn’t speak to software B or a software system A did not speak to software system B. And what Fūsus has done is we’ve eliminated that. We’ve basically created bridges between all of these disparate systems so that among other things, law enforcement agencies can have inter-department collaboration. They call that mutual aid. And when you’re talking about catching criminals and people doing the wrong thing, or even when you’re talking about responding to a life safety situation, an ambulatory situation, where maybe the closest available law enforcement or emergency resource is actually in a neighboring jurisdiction. That’s where this interagency collaboration through Fūsus is so powerful. And we’re seeing it all over the country. I mean, we’ve got now 120 plus cities and counties around the country that are connected. Some very large cities, some entire state. Just here in the Atlanta Metropolitan area, we have a wealth of mutual aid opportunity. You’ve got obviously the city of Atlanta using the system, Cobb County, Fulton County, Sheriff’s office, Henry County, Roswell, Alpharetta. I mean so you’ve got a veritable gold mine, if you will, of collaboration. And that’s what Fūsus endeavors to do. You know, obviously Peachtree Corners has invested in a certain number of cameras, both license plate readers, and surveillance cameras, in Town Center and otherwise. But you think about maybe call it 150 cameras. Think about the 10,000 now that, to your point Rico, our friends over at Gwinnett County through the system can utilize to kind of put the pieces together in an emergency. And that’s what Fūsus does.


[00:21:39] Rico: interestingly enough, I think if people knew the range of technology being used by different cities, different counties, different departments, where they don’t meet each other. Even within a federal government, doing Welfare let’s say, or Medicaid or Medicare. It took a while for some of these agencies to be able to talk to each other, right? Because they’re using completely different platforms, completely different technology. And it’s no different in law enforcement, right?

[00:22:03] Chris: That’s right.

[00:22:04] Rico: So being able to have a platform like yours, to me, just makes sense. And you’re then now the power of what you’re doing here across counties. Because like you said before, I mean, criminals don’t know jurisdictions. They might be in Fulton county, they might go up to Calhoun for the weekend.

[00:22:22] Chris: Right.

[00:22:22] Rico: Or something, you know, I mean, anything’s possible. Peachtree Parkway’s a, thoroughfare going from Midtown, going all the way up to Johns Creek and Foresyth. I mean, you can make that drive over 40 minutes, depending on the time of day, right? And things can happen. And random things can happen as people know. So you have, when people do burglaries, right? I think it was a Midtown street just recently. It was like, 20 car break-ins on the same street. It was just a ridiculous amount of break-ins, but people think a criminal would break into one car. Well, no, they’re not there for one car. They’re in a parking deck and they’re gonna go to five or six or seven different cars because that’s how they make their money.

[00:23:01] Chris: That’s right.

[00:23:01] Rico: So if police can see that happening, because it could happen over a period of 40 minutes, and no one would know, right? But if police can see that, I mean, I can see how that is a benefit. And when you get someone like that off the street, that means there’s less of that happening, because that’s not the only time that’s happening.

[00:23:20] Chris: Well, and criminals also know a hard target versus a soft target. So if the word gets out that Peachtree Corners is interconnected, that we have a public-private partnership between the business community and law enforcement, that there’s free flow of information sharing. And as such rapid response from law enforcement, you know, they’re gonna go somewhere else. The word will get out very quickly. They’re not gonna be breaking into cars, breaking into businesses with the same level of frequency that perhaps they did prior to that engagement with the community. And that’s why if you look across the country Rico, this is the future of law enforcement. It’s not just something that’s unique to Peachtree Corners. Community led policing is really, if you talk about what the buzz words are in public safety today, community led policing is probably at the forefront of the conversation and it’s not just law enforcement. I mean, mayors are actually running on community led policing efforts. And it just makes sense, right? I mean, you’re saying, listen, we’re gonna make better use of taxpayer funds. We’re going to bring the business community, members of the community in closer collaboration with law enforcement. And what that does Rico is it builds trust, right? I mean, that’s fundamentally what we’re achieving here is that now with quicker response and better collaboration, members of the community become part of the solution. And we all know change management, right? If you’re trying to change the perception of public safety, get people actively involved in the change. And so that’s what we’re doing with Fūsus.

[00:24:44] Rico: And that’s great, because I think you brought up the Floyd incident from a few years ago. Transparency is probably the biggest thing.

[00:24:52] Chris: Right.

[00:24:53] Rico: More cameras mean it’s more transparency. Not only, in the situation of law enforcement, but also to make sure that law enforcement also acts responsibly. Because they’re all within the system, it becomes an important factor I think, like you said, for that trust. And I can only see it growing because there will be more cameras, there will be more use. And I’m sure as your company evolves, there’ll be more different uses that you may not realize today that may come up 12 months from now because with more activity, I think that creates more opportunities for advancing the system that you have. So, as far as Peachtree Corners goes, maybe you can, you know, you guys have been in Peachtree Corners, I don’t know for how long, but why did you choose to put you to a company here?

[00:25:41] Chris: First off I live here. And the second thing is that, I really liked when I was looking at where to set up our headquarters. Because we did look outside of Peachtree Corners as well. You know candidly, you think about hiring a lot of engineers, people that are fresh out of Georgia Tech perhaps, you think immediately, okay, let’s go Midtown, right? Because that’s, you know, you’ve got Marta you know, available and that’s just as accessible. But what I really loved about Peachtree Corners is first off it was a very friendly community in terms of business. They were very supportive of us, the Mayor and the City Manager, Mike and Brian. You know, they were very supportive of us setting up shop here. It’s also a very technologically forward leaning city. And if you look at what Brian’s done, it’s just tremendous. I mean, he has really put, you know, this is kind of the Silicon Orchard. It’s kind of the east coast equivalent, if you will, of the Silicon Valley. You know, you’ve got a lot of companies coming here that are in the technology sector. You’ve got autonomous vehicle companies, you’ve got the 5G initiatives that Brian’s been pushing forward. You’ve got the international technology collaborative that he’s creating with countries like Israel. And so if you think about where you want to be as a technology company and where a wealth of talent will potentially locate themselves, well Peachtree Corners is a great place. So we’ve had a lot of success here. I would also tell you that the building owner, for the building that we’re in, he was great to us. You know when we started, Rico, back in June of 2019, we had five employees. And as a new company with five employees and we had a fold out table, that was our conference table, right?

[00:27:23] Rico: Oh, that’s funny.

[00:27:24] Chris: And you know, all of us left good paying jobs and really kind of, you know, on a hope and a prayer, right? To make our own company. And so the building owner was very kind to us when I said, listen, I can’t sign a long lease. And it’s gotta be a very reasonable monthly rate. But we wanted to be in a nice building because we had confidence that we could, you know if we put our heads together, we could grow something and sure enough. Bud was really kind in giving us kind of a no lease space to rent. And now I’m happy to report that I’m his largest tenant and we have a hundred employees and growing and. We did it in a little over two years. And so pretty excited about where we are, but you know, even more excited about where we’re going.

[00:28:05] Rico: Excellent. It’s good to have you here. And you’re right, Brian and the city has done such a terrific job. I think there are 20 countries represented here between companies like, Valmet that’s I think out of Finland, agencies and chambers, like the French American Business Chamber that’s located here. And companies like Intuitive Robotics that just is building out their five building campus. I mean, I don’t think people understand to some degree that have lived here for a while, how much is represented within the city. So cutting edge having companies like yours here really has made a difference here. And certainly I’m looking forward to the difference it can make in community safety. It’s good to have you on, I appreciate Chris, your time with us. Everyone, if you’re, you know, looking obviously for additional information, where can they find additional information on your company?

[00:28:55] Chris: Rico, we’ll have the ConnectPeachtreeCorners.org website, we’ll have that up and running here soon. And we’ll have contact information and all sorts of ancillary data. So if people are trying to learn more about the opportunity and how to contribute and how to participate. Please take a look at that website and we’re of course here. Fūsus and Peachtree Corners. And they can always reach out to us directly at Fūsus.com. And we look forward to supporting the city. This is our home. This is where my family lives. This is where our children go to school. And so, you know, obviously I have a vested interest in making sure that you know, this program’s successful and that we take care of our fellow citizens in Peachtree Corners. So thanks for having me on, Rico.

[00:29:35] Rico: Sure. I appreciate it, Chris. Thanks for being a good neighbor. Everyone, thanks again for joining us on this Peachtree Corners Life podcast. Look out for our next issue of Peachtree Corners Magazine and our newest Southwest Gwinnett Magazine. That’ll be coming out in the next month or so. But stay safe and have a great day.

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Elections and Politics

Regina Matthews in Run-Off June 18 for Gwinnett Superior Court Judge



This run-off election decides who will serve on the court.

Magistrate Court Judge Regina Matthews is a candidate for the upcoming June 18th runoff election for Superior Court Judge in Gwinnett County. Regina discusses improving court efficiency by setting deadlines, utilizing magistrates and senior judges, virtual hearings, digitizing processes, and maintaining accurate records. She also discusses challenges like housing insecurity’s impact on crime, accountability courts, and public engagement. The Run-off is Tuesday, June 18th. Host Rico Figliolini.

Regina’s Website: 

00:00:00 – Magistrate Judge Regina Matthews on Local Politics
00:01:19 – Importance of Voting in Runoff Elections
00:04:17 – The Varied Responsibilities of Superior Court Judges
00:07:22 – Strategies for Reducing Court Backlogs
00:11:29 – Adapting Court Proceedings to Virtual Platforms
00:14:00 – Addressing Housing Insecurity to Reduce Recidivism
00:17:17 – Housing Scarcity and Mental Health Challenges in the Court System
00:20:19 – Navigating Limited Resources in the Justice System
00:21:59 – Challenges in the Court System: Lack of Resources and Prioritizing Treatment 00:26:32 – Increasing Awareness of Available Services
00:27:51 – Embracing Law Enforcement: Building Community Ties
00:30:20 – Balancing AI Benefits and Risks in the Legal System
00:33:33 – Continuing Accountability Courts and Upholding Judicial Integrity
00:37:09 – Serving with Integrity as a Judge

Podcast Transcript


Rico Figliolini 0:00:01

Hi, everyone. This is Rico Figliolini, host of Peachtree Corners Life, a podcast that talks about politics, culture and all things going on in Peachtree Corners or that affects Peachtree Corners. So I have a great guest today, Regina Matthews. Hey, Regina, thanks for being with us.

Regina Matthews 0:00:17

Thank you for having me. I’m delighted to be here, Rico.

Rico Figliolini 0:00:20

Absolutely. It’s very important, important times here. We just had that primary in May, and you and another candidate are in a runoff June 18.

Regina Matthews 0:00:31

That is correct.

Rico Figliolini 0:00:33

Right. So let me introduce you a little better. Regina’s from Chicago, went to school in South Carolina and ended up here in Georgia going to Emory law school. You’ve been, you live in Lowburn, you have two kids. They both play soccer. You have a dog. You’ve been working actually as a Magistrate judge. And you were appointed by eleven Gwinnett County Superior court judges along with the chief magistrate judge appointed you to this position. I think it was 2020.

Regina Matthews 0:01:02


Rico Figliolini 0:01:03

And you’ve been serving in that position ever since. So what I’d like you to do is because most people don’t know what a magistrate judge does, maybe you can tell us a little bit about yourself and what that position actually does. Go ahead.

Regina Matthews 0:01:17

Well, yes, and thank you for that introduction. I am happy to be here. And again, thank you for doing this because I’ll just start off by saying, you know, you mentioned our runoff election, and I know that a lot of people don’t show up to vote in runoff elections historically. So hopefully we will change that. Hopefully people will get out and vote. This is an important election. It is the only county wide election on the ballot. So, you know, if you’re anywhere in Gwinnett, you can vote for this particular race.

Rico Figliolini 0:01:52

Not only that, it’s a nonpartisan race. So what happens here June 18 decides the position does not go to November, does not go into a general election. This is it. If you’re not there to vote for this position between two candidates, you’ve lost your chance to do that. So sorry, I just want to put that out.

Regina Matthews 0:02:12

Thank you for that distinction, because that is an important one. And sometimes people also want to know, like, what ballot do I need to choose in order to vote for judge? It’s on every ballot. Nonpartisan, republican, democratic. But you’re right. If you don’t vote in this runoff, you will miss the opportunity to select who will hold this judicial seat for the next four years. But going back to your question, I do service as a magistrate judge currently in Gwinnett, we have part time magistrates and full time magistrates and there is a distinction in my current role. I was appointed so that I could provide judicial assistance primarily for our superior court judges. But we also, as full time judges, do sometimes sit in our state courts, you know, wherever we’re needed. Juvenile court, probate court, recorders court. We’re sort of the judges that kind of get pulled in different directions. But 95% of my time on the bench is in superior court. So the eleven superior court divisions that I sit for, basically what those judges do, they sign what are called judicial assistance orders. So when a judge meets my assistance, they will issue an order giving me the authority to sit in their courtroom and handle, you know, their caseload. So I hear everything that the elected superior court judges hear. I’ve been designated, I think, at this point two hundred times by our superior court judges. And, you know, we hear primarily family law and felony criminal prosecutions. That comprises about 70% of the caseload in our courts. The other 30% are general civil cases. So it could be anything from an appeal from magistrate court, property tax appeals, unemployment benefit appeals, contract disputes, court actions. I mean, the list is long and extensive, so, you know, but that’s basically what I do every day.

Rico Figliolini 0:04:20

So, basically, it’s fair to say that even though you’re not doing the job of a superior court judge, you’re doing work for them. You’ve been exposed to those cases, you’ve done support work for them, essentially.

Regina Matthews 0:04:36

Correct. That is correct. And what I will say is, you know, it’s an interesting and intense vetting process. When our superior court judges choose, you know, who they want to appoint to these positions, because ideally, you know, they want someone, an attorney who has practiced primarily in the areas that the superior court judges here. So, again, that’s primarily family and criminal. So if you have a background as a practicing attorney in those areas, typically you’re going to be better suited, you know, to serve in superior court. You know, that’s vastly what we do.

Rico Figliolini 0:05:17

And there’s eleven superior court judges in Gwinnett county.

Regina Matthews 0:05:22

That is correct.

Rico Figliolini 0:05:23

And do they handle budgets of the court? Now, do the individual superior court judge handles the budget for their section, if you will, or is it done as consolidated between the eleven?

Regina Matthews 0:05:38

So each of the judges has their own budget, but they are similar budgets, if that makes sense. So it’s not like one judge is going to have a different budget than the other judges. I mean, you have the same amount of money allocated. What happens is, you know, the judges will go to the board of commissioners to make their pitch as to what it is, you know, is needed. So if their budgets need to be increased from year to year, it’s sort of a collective bench decision, or pitch, so to speak, as to establishing what the budget should be. But then the judges have control over the money that’s allocated to them individually.

Rico Figliolini 0:06:20

Okay, so then, so judges are not just sitting on a bench. They’re also doing administrative work. They’re also handling budget requirements and the work through of what needs to be done in a court system, if you will.

Regina Matthews 0:06:37

That is correct. Some of it is administrative, and some of it, you know, I think people tend not to think about this part of the job, but a lot of times, what you’re doing is also, you know, finding out how to effectively manage your cases and, you know, the best and most effective way to handle, you know, disposing of cases in a way that’s responsive, responsible, and responsive to the needs of the people, which is having, you know, efficient resolution of their cases. And so a lot of that, honestly just comes from experience knowing what works and what doesn’t work to kind of move cases along.

Rico Figliolini 0:07:16

Right. So, okay, so we segue into that part of case management, if you will. Not just that, but the backlog, that was exasperated because of COVID I mean, there was backlog before, but it got worse because of COVID So, yeah, so this backlog, case management, how do you handle, what are the strategies that you would use to resolve some of these things? I know from experience, it’s one thing, but what, in effect, would you do to make this better?

Regina Matthews 0:07:47

Right. And I will say, I think that people should know that there are some court divisions that operate without a backlog. People find that hard to believe. And we sort of hear, you know, about this backlog, and it sticks with us, there are some divisions that do have a backlog, but some of them operate without one. I will tell you division five, which is the position or the division that I’m running for. Judge Byers, I will say, and I used to work with her as a staff attorney. So, you know, I know very specifically how she does her case management, but she’s been very effective in scheduling cases. And I always say one of the things you can do as a judge is aggressively schedule cases. And what that means is, you know, when you show up to court and you see a courtroom full of people, that means that judge has probably aggressively scheduled that calendar. So there are some judges who may call in one case or two cases. But if those cases, you know, resolve, and they often do when they come to court, the attorneys talk or the parties talk, and they resolve it right then and there. And then if you’ve only called in one or two cases, for example, then you have the rest of the day gone because you’ve only called in those two cases. So, you know, I think aggressive case calendaring, I think using our mediation services and our courts helps move cases along to resolution so that in many cases, those, you know, lawsuits or disputes don’t even reach us to a trial capacity because they’re resolved earlier on in the litigation. Judges can also issue, particularly in civil cases, case management, or case scheduling orders, which dictate to the attorneys or the parties specific deadlines that they have to meet in order, again, to help move the cases along. Because in some instances, you have cases where motions are filed over and over, and it just prolongs the litigation. But if you give strict deadlines and it makes sure people are, you know, held accountable to those deadlines, again, it keeps the cases moving efficiently. The other thing I think that helps is obviously, courts utilizing, you know, full time magistrates and our senior judges to help manage the cases. There are some judges who use us more than others, but I think anytime you have judges, you know, available who, of course, have been appointed because they have the requisite skills and knowledge to help, you know, hear those cases, I think we need to utilize them. And so those are the things I can think of off the top of my head. And also, I will add, using when you can, technology. We learned, obviously, during COVID that utilizing Zoom video conferencing for some types of hearings can make things move more efficiently as well. Obviously, you can’t do everything on Zoom, but there are some types of hearings that can be handled more efficiently that way.

Rico Figliolini 0:10:51

So let’s stick to the technology for a little bit, because that was a big deal during COVID took a little while to digitize the process, if you will. And now that you have it, you’re right, I can see certain cases itself in court, need to be in court. You need to be able to eye the participants of this. But certain promotions and other things that are administrative motions and stuff can all be done by Zoom, right? Or digital services of a sort.

Regina Matthews 0:11:21

Yeah, I agree. I think when you have, for instance, we hear a lot of motions, particularly in civil cases, where it’s just the attorneys coming to court to argue some issue in the law, and they just want to make a record, you know, to the courts and to argue their position on whatever that legal issue is. And so we’re not hearing evidence. You know, we’re not listening to witnesses. And so those types of hearings, I think, easily could be handled by Zoom or some sort of video conferencing technology. But as you said, other cases, you know, where we are hearing live testimony from witnesses, and we’re receiving a lot of evidence, you know, in the form of documentary evidence, then clearly those are instances in where we need to be.

Rico Figliolini 0:12:08

In person in court, not to get into the weeds. But I just thought about this. When you’re using Zoom like that on these types of things, will it transcribe as well? I mean, do you keep copies like that, even if it’s in a digital form?

Regina Matthews 0:12:25

So what we typically do, and in civil cases, you don’t have to have the case reported, but most oftentimes, the attorneys or the parties want that service. So we have our court reporters available on Zoom as well, so that they can make a record just like they would be able to if they were in court.

Rico Figliolini 0:12:43


Regina Matthews 0:12:44

And additionally, you know, lawyers that are really savvy, they’re really, you know, I guess during COVID they became more savvy in how to introduce documents through Zoom, you know, how to share, use the screen sharing function, or how to attach documents as part of the Zoom video conferencing features. So, you know, we’ve worked around it, and I think, again, there are ways we can make it continue to work in order to make sure that our litigants are receiving effective and efficient resolution of their cases, because the last thing we want is for people to wait years unnecessarily to resolve a case.

Rico Figliolini 0:13:27

And I would think it’s easier this way, too, because you’re digitizing everything. You’re keeping files that way. I mean, automatically, I would think. And, in fact, probably within a year’s time, the transcription part can even be done through voice to text versus just having a transcriber there. There’s so much out there. I mean, you all have to, I guess, figure that out all the time. Keeps going. All right, so a couple of the other issues that’s near and dear to you, I think, that, you know, spoken of, obviously, through not just you, but other candidates and stuff. So one of them is housing and security. You mentioned that as a significant issue in Gwinnett county. So how do you propose the court system can address this issue effectively?

Regina Matthews 0:14:14

Yeah, and that’s a tough question. It’s one I struggle with and think about all the time, because I think the issue of housing insecurity sort of leads to other issues that we see in our courts, obviously, you know, people don’t have a safe place to live. It’s going to affect our crime rates. It’s going to affect recidivism. It’s going to affect people just being able to function in our community. So I think it comes down to resources, and that’s really one of the unfortunate practical realities for our courts, is a lot of times we want to, of course, help people. Courts are rehabilitative and to some extent. But when we have individuals who simply don’t have a place to go, for instance, I’m going to step aside a moment and talk about our accountability courts. So we have three in superior court, veterans court, mental health court, and drug courts. And all of those courts, obviously, operate for the purpose of establishing rehabilitative services and treatment services for individuals so that they don’t keep committing crimes, so that they don’t re offend, and so that they can be productive members of society. Those courts can only operate to their full extent if we have the appropriate resources in the communities available. We are limited, and that’s just the reality. So, for instance, when we have individuals who successfully complete one of those treatment programs, and there have been many, I can go on and on about the efficacy of those programs. But what I find is that they sometimes come back not because they’re not taking their medications or they’re not seeing their treatment providers, but it’s because they don’t have housing. So we send them through treatment. They do everything they need to do, but either because of their past or just because of the cost of living, they find themselves back in the courts because they’re on the street. So I don’t know what the solution is, other than really having our communities help us advocate to our legislators, to our commissioners to give us more funding so that we can try to establish appropriate housing in Gwinnett county. There are some places that work with our program that will provide transitional support in housing for people that are in our accountability courts, but it’s only temporary. So once they meet that threshold of time, then they’re sort of left to their own supports and connections to try to find affordable housing. And I know affordable housing is an issue everywhere. It’s not just in Gwinnett county, but for sure, yeah.

Rico Figliolini 0:17:11

I mean, there’s not enough. Everyone wants to go to the higher price tag. Land is becoming scarce, even in Gwinnett county, apparently in certain places. So they want to put as much as they can and still charge as much as they can. So sticking with this, too, because mental health and veterans court as well. Right. Both. Those also are issues that go hand in hand, almost actually, with housing insecurity. Right. And what you’re looking at is support from nonprofits that are helping and doing stuff with federal monies and donations, corporate donations. But it’s a tough track. Right. So how do you, yeah. How do you feel that, you know, with mental health, what is it, 500 prisoners or so in the Gwinnett prison system that probably shouldn’t be there? Many of them they probably should be. They should be treated, obviously. How do you, how does the court system, how can the court system help with that?

Regina Matthews 0:18:14

So again, it’s tough because of, honestly, the truth of the matter is we have limited capacity. And, you know, if you look at places where we send people, for instance, for inpatient treatment, we’re talking about Lakeview, they have about 124 beds. Summit Ridge, they have a little under 100 beds. Peachford, which is all the way out in Atlanta, they have about 250 beds or so. We have way more people that need to be to get inpatient treatment than there are beds. So a lot of times what happens is people sit and wait. So for those people that we know need treatment, and we’re not just going to send them back out in the community without it. We keep them in jail and we try to arrange, there are some treatments that the jail medical staff can assist with while they’re waiting for beds. But a lot of times, honestly, we’re just having people wait for open beds because so many of them, I would say 70% or so, need some type of inpatient treatment. Now, our mental health accountability courts help a lot of people that are sort of not as much of a need of services, if that makes sense. I mean, they’re all in need of services, but to a different degree, because there are outpatient services that our treatment providers offer for those individuals where they can still, you know, live on the outside and work and do those things. But, you know, for those, the vast majority of people who need more intensive help, again, it’s just a matter of having the limited bed space.

Rico Figliolini 0:19:55

Well, not only that, it’s security, too. Right? Secured bed space, because there’s still, they’re still serving time, but they should be serving time in a place that at least will help them get better.

Regina Matthews 0:20:07

That is correct. That is correct. So, and, you know, I don’t know what the answer is. I know, you know, people never want to hear that we’re supposed to have all the answers. But, you know, I sit in court every day and I struggle with that. You know, you want to help people, you know, how important it is for them to get the help they need and to every extent possible, you know, I do that, you know, but when there’s, you know, only a limited number of bed space and the hospitals are saying, we can’t take this person right now, then we just have to do the best we can do. And that is, again, engaging with our medical staff at the jail and with our treatment providers who can come into the jail and offer services while those individuals wait. But, you know, otherwise we’re relying on, you know, what we have.

Rico Figliolini 0:20:58

Right, right. It’s a struggle, I imagine, because it’s almost like the sports industry here in Gwinnett county, right. We can only get certain amount of sporting events that the hotel system can support. Right. And then we have to turn away events because maybe there’s not enough space during that time. Same thing with jails. Right? To a degree, if you want to make that comparison, it’s like, I’m sure that you all have to figure out, well, you know, we have. We hit capacity. You know, where can, you know, can we, you know, put more prisoners into the system when you fix the capacity? You know, and I don’t know if we’ve actually hit that capacity yet or. Not hit the capacity for. To have occupancy in a system like this. You know, do we have enough?

Regina Matthews 0:21:44

I think we have. I mean, I can tell you as someone who not only sits in our superior courts, but who also presides in the absence of the judges who preside over our accountability courts. You know, I sit in those courts as well, and I’m very intimately familiar with how those treatment courts operate. And I can tell you that we are at capacity and we want to take in more people, but the practical reality is we don’t have the resources. And that is the. It’s really, it’s sad for me. It’s one of the most heart wrenching things as a judge to know that someone again needs help and they either have to wait in order to get it or we just have to come up with another solution.

Rico Figliolini 0:22:34

So going to that, I mean, obviously there’s so many challenges. This is one of them or several of them that we’ve just discussed. Are there other challenges you see in the court system that you would like to attend to?

Regina Matthews 0:22:49

I think those, honestly are the biggest challenges. Those are the ones that I’m confronted with every day. People who need assistance and treatment for trauma or substance use disorder or they need housing resources. Again, I don’t really notice a backlog that a lot of people refer to, because I think if you talk to lawyers who practice in other areas outside of Gwinnett, they will tell you Gwinnett handles cases way more efficiently than some of the other jurisdictions. So I think we do a good job of utilizing the resources we have by way of, you know, full time magistrates and our senior judges. I think we do things well. We use our, you know, alternative dispute resolution resources to a great extent. I think that helps us in that regard. So I think overall, we do things well in Gwinnett, in our courts. But again, I do think, you know, we have to prioritize with our money, you know, having more resources available for, you know, people struggling with substance use disorder or mental illness or a combination of both. We have a lot of people who are dual diagnosis. Right. So they have substance use disorder and mental illness, and a lot of times are housing insecure. So they obviously need a lot more resources, and that all falls struggle.

Rico Figliolini 0:24:20

Yeah. How do you see the role of the judiciary system when it comes to educating the public about the legal system? Their rights is all that falls hand in hand with what we just discussed, I think because sometimes the legal system can take the easy way out because it must, because there’s no other way to do. To do it at this point. Right. So what do you think the role is of the judicial system here as far as education, educating the public?

Regina Matthews 0:24:48

I think it’s important. You know, as a judge, I want people in our community to feel like they are knowledgeable about our courts. They sort of know where to go when they need to file a particular type of case. I think we as a judiciary, can do a better job of putting information out there that is available to the public. We have taken a lot of strides in Gwinnett in our courts. I will tell you that there are, particularly for magistrate court, our chief magistrate, Christina Bloom, she keeps brochures in the magistrate court office that is available to people, anyone who walks in. They can get a pamphlet on landlord tenant issues, you know, in those cases and how they’re handled and sort of the issues that come up in those cases, small claims, you know, basically step by step. I don’t want to say instructions because we can’t give legal advice, but we do give people resources. Like, this is where you can go. Our courts also operate a family law clinic. So for individuals who may want to represent themselves or maybe they. They don’t have the money to hire an attorney and maybe they don’t qualify for legal aid, they’re sort of stuck in the middle. There are resources available because of the goodwill of some of our attorneys who volunteer their time to do clinics to help people sort of navigate those processes. So we have information there. I think we can do a better job about making sure people know that the information is out there so that they can utilize it.

Rico Figliolini 0:26:25

That’s interesting. I didn’t know about that.

Regina Matthews 0:26:28

A lot of people don’t.

Rico Figliolini 0:26:29

Yeah, yeah. No, that sounds like another good podcast, actually.

Regina Matthews 0:26:33

So great idea. As a great idea, I wish more people knew about those types of services, and it’s just a matter of figuring out how do we get that message out to people.

Rico Figliolini 0:26:44

Yeah, it’s not easy. And then to get people to listen, actually, too, because they may not need it at that moment. Until they need it, right.

Regina Matthews 0:26:53

Until they need it. Yeah.

Rico Figliolini 0:26:54


Regina Matthews 0:26:54

The other thing I tell people, too, you know, I think people are generally afraid of courts or maybe they’re just apprehensive when it comes to, you know, courts. And so I tell people, don’t always think about it in a negative way. I encourage people to come out and observe court proceedings, you know, when you can. I know most people have full time jobs, so that may not be feasible all the time, but, you know, courts are open forums, so if you want to come and observe a divorce trial or, you know, a criminal trial or whatever type of trial, you know, come to court, observe, see how, you know, things go. And I think that might help prepare people, too, better for, you know, you know, the times that they have to come to court and face that same situation.

Rico Figliolini 0:27:41

It’s funny, I think people think of court system like the IRS. Just stay away and don’t go near it.

Regina Matthews 0:27:47

That’s right. People don’t want to come anywhere close if they don’t have to. I get that. I get that.

Rico Figliolini 0:27:52

Although I got to say, the Gwinnett county police do a great job when they do ride alongs. That, depending on how you do that program, even some of the local small town like Suwannee, I think, in Duluth do similar type of things where you can go with the police and see their normal day, if you will.

Regina Matthews 0:28:08

I love those programs, too, because, you know, our law enforcement, I also think that they sort of get that reputation of, you know, like, we don’t want to deal with law enforcement unless we need them. Right. Like, we stay away, you know, and I think we have to embrace, you know, our law enforcement officers as, you know, our friends. You know, they’re here to help us. They want to protect us and keep us safe. So I’m so glad, you know, so many of our police chiefs have taken the initiative to really be present in the community, you know, for reasons outside of, you know, crime, safety and prevention. But just so that people know, you know, they’re friendly, they’re neighborly, they want to, you know, you know, help us, but also be, make sure that we know that they’re part of the community to help and not just to get the bad guys, for sure.

Rico Figliolini 0:28:59

Right, right. Yeah, true. And a lot of them do a good job that way. We talked about technology before, but I like talking a little bit more specific about artificial intelligence, AI, and what that means in a court system or in preparing court documents or in having to worry about evidence that may be submitted that could have been tainted by AI. So what, you know, what do you think are the potential benefits and drawbacks of using AI in the court system?

Regina Matthews 0:29:35

Yeah, admittedly, you know, it’s a discussion we’re having to have more often. Even some of our continuing judicial education classes are starting to talk about this issue. And candidly, it scares me a bit because I’m just trying to imagine a court system whereby human intelligence is replaced by artificial intelligence. I mean, just the thought of it is a little alarming. I do think that there are ways in which AI can be beneficial. You know, for instance, when you’re an attorney or a judge, you know, or a law clerk who’s working for a judge, and you want to find information about a specific case or a legal topic, you know, doing research could be, AI could be great because it could make you more efficient and getting the answers you need. But I will say, as a caveat, there has to be a human, I think, sort of checking that. So even if you use it for research purposes, it is still artificial intelligence. So I would like to think that we would still need some human to basically double check to make sure of the accuracy of whatever information you’re getting. So I think there could be some benefits for efficiency when it comes to operating in a courtroom setting, though I’m more afraid of AI than I am of welcoming of it, because I foresee issues where we’re presented with evidence, for example, and we have to test the credibility or veracity of that evidence. And again, there’s just no substitute, I don’t think, for human intelligence as opposed to AI. And I think about the floodgates opening up with even court filings and us getting backlogged because of AI and something other than human filing court documents and how that could just really cause a backlog.

Rico Figliolini 0:31:34

You’re worried about more filings happening because it can be generated faster through AI.

Regina Matthews 0:31:39

That is correct. That is correct.

Rico Figliolini 0:31:42

I mean, certainly AI has issues, and I don’t, you know, as fast as it’s moving right now, who knows? In a year or two, probably less than two years, I bet based on what’s been going on in the last two years, we’re going to end up being able to. If you have someone that doesn’t speak the language, that can be translated through the system, Google does that right now. The Google Translate, right. And voice, you can have real time fact checking occurring where you can look at, you know, place it to chat, GPT 7.05.0 when it comes out, where you could check those facts. So there are certainly good side to it, but as fast as that’s moving, the bad side can move just as fast.

Regina Matthews 0:32:29

I can say, yeah, I agree, it’s troublesome. And because I guess we’re not sort of there yet, it’s hard to really appreciate how. How much of an effect it will have on our courts, whether a good, you know, good or bad, because, like you said, it’s happening so quickly, it’s almost hard to grasp. But, yeah, it’s gonna be here, if it’s not already, we’re gonna have to confront it. And. And it does give me some, some. I don’t know, I’m concerned a little bit.

Rico Figliolini 0:32:59

Well, it’s good that you all are getting education on it, right? Continuing education, if you will. So that’s a good part, that it’s being proactive, at least.

Regina Matthews 0:33:07


Rico Figliolini 0:33:08

If you were to win the Gwinnett County Superior Court judgeship, what do you think, in brief, would be your long term vision for it?

Regina Matthews 0:33:17

So I will say, first of all, I’m the only candidate in the race who has unequivocally indicated that I will, without question, continue the accountability courts that Judge Byers started. And particularly those accountability courts are veterans treatment court and mental health accountability court. She is the only judge currently sitting on the bench who operates those treatment court programs. So once she resigns her seat at the end of this year, those programs could effectively go away. And so I have made an unequivocal promise to continue on with those programs. Honestly, I can’t imagine our courts not having them. So that is the first thing I will continue her legacy. You know, she started those courts. I think we just celebrated the 11th year, and so I want that to be, you know, a long term program, both of those to be long term programs that Gwinnett can be proud of forever. So I promise that I foresee a court whereby litigants feel that Judge Matthews is fair. She’s even handed, she’s even tempered. She may not always issue a ruling that I agree with, but I will trust that Judge Matthews has followed the law, you know, above all else, and that she treated me with dignity and with respect. You know, I was a practicing lawyer for a long time, and I remember appearing in front of judges who, I don’t know, seem like they would make sport of humiliating litigants or humiliating attorneys. I’m sure. I mean, you probably have seen or at least heard of those types of judges, and it was just troubling to me. And I, you know, said a long time ago, if I ever became a judge, you know, I will never be that type of judge where, you know, someone comes in and they have, you know, an issue that’s important enough to them to either file a case or be involved in whatever the litigation is. But, you know, people deserve to be treated with dignity, no matter what. And I include, you know, people who are charged of criminal offenses. You know, obviously, we don’t condone criminal behavior. I don’t like it. But those people deserve to be treated with dignity at the very least. And so that’s what people will get from me, judge, again, that’s going to be fair. Who’s going to operate independently, who is not going to be swayed, you know, politically. Who’s really just going to follow the laws, as I’m bound to do, the constitution of the state of Georgia, the constitution of the United States, and the laws passed by our legislators.

Rico Figliolini 0:36:03

Okay, well, thank you for sharing that vision. We’ve come pretty much to the end of our talk. But what I’d like you to do is give us, in short, two minutes, maybe ask for the vote, essentially tell everyone why they should be voting for you and ask for that vote.

Regina Matthews 0:36:23

Thank you, Rico. And, you know, I have to tell you lawyers, you probably know this. Lawyers and judges are not good with time limits. So I hope I can do the two minutes. If I started to go over, just stop me, because we’re not good at keeping time out. Yeah, put your hand up or something. But again, thank you for this opportunity. I take being a judge as something that is meaningful. It is difficult work. You know, the decisions that I make, that we make as judges every day, you know, we realize that they impact people in very significant ways. And so what I can tell the voters is that’s not something I will ever take for granted. You should vote for me not only because I have a deep concern and care for the people of this county, not only because I currently serve the county, but also because you need a judge and you deserve a judge who has the experience to do the job and to do it on day one. As I talked about earlier, I currently sit in superior court every day. At this point in my judicial career, I’ve made decisions, probably I want to say hundreds, but it may be even close to thousands of cases. This point I’ve done so diligently. I’m a judge that operates with the utmost integrity, and you don’t have to just take my word for it. I’ve been tried, vetted and tested, so to speak. The eleven superior court judges that you elected and the chief magistrate judge you elected in Gwinnett county have already vetted my qualifications. They wouldn’t designate me to sit for them over 200 times if they didn’t believe that I was suitable to do the job of a superior court judge. And that is what I do every day. I make a commitment to the voters that I will continue to have deep respect for the rule of law, I will always follow and adhere to the rule of law, that I will operate with integrity, and that I will do everything to make sure the court processes run efficiently. Thank you again, and I hope to have your vote. You overwhelmingly supported me in the primary election. I hope I can get you back out to vote for the runoff. You can find more information on my website at judgematthews.com, I’m also on social media Regina Matthews for superior court or judge Regina Matthews. I’m on LinkedIn. I’m on Instagram. I’m pretty much all the social media platforms. But again, I just hope the voters can remember that, you know, you need and deserve someone who has the experience doing the job. And I’m ready on day one.

Rico Figliolini 0:38:59

Great. By the time people hear this, early voting, I think will have ended. So June 18, Tuesday is the day.

Regina Matthews 0:39:06

Tuesday, June 19. That day you have to go to your assigned voter precinct for early voting. Obviously it’s different, but on June 18, you have to go to your designated polling place, seven to seven.

Rico Figliolini 0:39:22

Thanks for that. So thank you, Regina Matthews. Appreciate you being on with me. Hang in there for a minute, but thank you. Everyone else. If you have questions, certainly put it into the comments. Whether you’re listening to this on Facebook or YouTube, or you have comments that you want to send directly to Regina Matthews, just go to her website, judgematthews.com, and you’ll be able to do that. So thanks again. Appreciate you being with us.

Regina Matthews 0:39:48

Thank you, Rico.

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Elections and Politics

Tuwanda Rush Williams in Run-Off June 18 for Gwinnett Superior Court Judge



This non-partisan run-off election decides who will serve in the seat

The Tuesday, June 18th run-off election for Gwinnett Superior Court Judge is almost here. In my interview with candidate Tuwanda Rush Williams, you will find out why she is running, her plans for mental health issues in the inmate population, why transparency and responsibility are important to her, and how she will rebuild trust in the judicial system. Tuwanda discusses the role of technology in modernizing the court system, the need for more lawyers to provide indigent defense services, and the importance of judges being visible and engaging with the public to build trust in the courts’ fairness and impartiality. With your host Rico Figliolini.

Tuwanda’s Website: https://www.tuwanda4judge.com/

00:00:00 – Tuwanda Rush Williams Runs for Gwinnett Superior Court Judge
00:01:15 – From New York to Georgia
00:03:54 – Improving Mental Health Care in Jail
00:07:50 – Addressing Mental Health in the Justice System
00:11:21 – Improving Court System Efficiency, Addressing Indigent Defense, and Leveraging Technology
00:15:53 – Balancing Technology in the Courtroom
00:18:06 – Concerns About AI in the Courts: Lack of Empathy and Transparency
00:22:15 – Ensuring Impartiality in Judicial Decisions
00:25:38 – Canine Incident Leads to Lawsuit
00:29:55 – Employing More Senior Judges to Clear Backlog
00:32:13 – Qualifications Beyond Being a Judge
00:35:29 – Tuwanda Rush Williams’ Campaign Resources and Endorsements

Podcast Transcript

Rico Figliolini 0:00:01

Hi, everyone. This is Rico Figliolini, host of Peachtree Corners Life, and we have an election coming up. It’s actually a runoff June 18, and I have one of the candidates for one of those runoffs, which is the candidate for Superior Court Judge here in Gwinnett County. Tuwanda Rush Williams. Hey, Tuwanda, how are you?

Tuwanda Rush Williams 0:00:20

Hello, Rico. How are you?

Rico Figliolini 0:00:22

Good, good. Appreciate you spending the time this afternoon coming out to speak to us and answer questions and talk about your candidacy. So appreciate you doing that. Absolutely.

Tuwanda Rush Williams 0:00:35

Thank you for the opportunity.

Rico Figliolini 0:00:37

No, for sure. And I think our readers and followers enjoy this type of thing. We just did one for the school board race, district three, and I got good responses on that. They enjoyed that, learning a bit more about candidates that are running. So why don’t you. Why don’t we start off Tuwanda with you telling us a little bit about yourself and tell us why or what motivated you to want to run for Gwinnett Superior Court Judge.

Tuwanda Rush Williams 0:01:05

Absolutely. Thank you. So, my name is Tuwanda Rush Williams, and I have been a resident of Gwinnett county for about 24 years now. Quite a while, I guess. 2000 is when we moved here, beginning of 2000. And I’m originally from Rochester, New York, but I have been in Georgia for the last 32 years, so I consider myself a Georgia peach at this point. But I am married and I have. My husband is doctor Anthony Williams. He is a retired Gwinnett county public school systems assistant principal, and he is also an army veteran. And we have two adult children, one who is in pharmacy school at UNC Chapel Hill, and the other is a youth college and young adult minister and an information technology specialist at Cox Enterprises. And so I’ve been practicing law for 31 years, a long time, most of that time here in Gwinnett county working for Gwinnett county government, and for the past year working at the law firm of Thompson, O’Brien, Kapler and the Sudie in Peachtree Corners. So why am I seeking this position? Simply because of what I observed in my 18 years working for Gwinnett county government, I rose to the position of second command. So I was deputy county attorney in the county attorney’s office, and I represented all 5300 employees, which included the district attorney, the clerk of court, the solicitor general, the sheriff, the tax commissioner, and the judges on all six courts. So I spent a lot of time at the Gwinnett county jail, and what I saw were the large number of persons with diagnosed mental illness sitting in the Gwinnett county jail. When I left the county in May, of last year in order to run for judge, and I had to leave my job because it was a conflict of interest to run for judge when I defended the judges when they were sued. When I left the county, there were 500 people with mental illness, diagnosed mental illness sitting in the jail. They tend to be socially isolated. They require around the clock observation. They are a higher suicide risk, and they require a lot of manpower resources. Because of that, there were another 2200 inmates in the regular population who were pretty much on their own, neglected. They were getting showers one day a week. It was very difficult for them to meet with their lawyers to prepare for their cases to go to trial. They also did not have much recreation time simply because there was not enough staffing to manage the 2200 regular inmates and simultaneously take care of the 500 inmates with mental illness of some type. So one of the reasons why I decided to run is because I don’t want to see people with diagnosed mental illnesses sitting in the jail awaiting trial. They don’t get better sitting in the jail. They need to have alternative custody arrangements. They need to be able to be in a mental health facility, or they need to be at home with counseling services, therapy services, medication stabilization, and a case manager while they are awaiting trial. And what I see in the county right now is that we have accountability courts, but they need to be expanded, and judges need to put a request in their budget to expand those courts so that we have a place to put people who have been charged with a crime but are not good candidates for being locked up in our jail. So I would like to see judges not send people to jail that have mental illness, but also send them to places like a viewpoint health, which is inadequate for staffing purposes. Right now they only have 16 beds. So we need to actually advocate in our court system for more money to take care of those with diagnosed mental illnesses as opposed to sitting in the jail.

Rico Figliolini 0:05:42

So for most people that don’t understand, they might think Gwinnett Superior Court judge is just a sitting judge listening to cases, felony cases, family law, divorce, child custody. But it is more as well an administrative role, deciding budgets and personnel. Right?

Tuwanda Rush Williams 0:06:01

That is exactly true. Superior court judges have a budget just like any other county department or state department, and they actually, they will go down to the Capitol and advocate for various issues as well that impact the court system. And one thing you said, Rico, that I want to follow up on. Most people think of superior court as criminal felony cases and family law cases are heard there. But did you know that there are a large variety of matters that are also heard in superior court that I handle over the last 19 years as a government lawyer, such as your property tax appeals, condemnation cases, inverse condemnation cases, elections lawsuits, civil rights lawsuits, contract disputes, all kinds of declaratory judgment actions, stormwater issues, things that people don’t really think about that are heard in superior court. And you would only have experience in those areas if you have been a local government lawyer, such as myself.

Rico Figliolini 0:07:11

You’ve been doing this for 31 years. Practicing here in Georgia.

Tuwanda Rush Williams 0:07:17

Yes, practicing in Georgia. 31 years. I practiced most of my career in Gwinnett county. So the last 19 years I worked here in Gwinnett, 18 years in the county attorney’s office, rising and promoted to second in command, and for the past year, working at Thompson O’Brien law firm, where we represent the city of Norcross, Bryan county and some other municipalities, doing a variety of work.

Rico Figliolini 0:07:47

So, getting back to a little bit about that budget, about the mental health issues, which is a challenge, a rising challenge. Obviously, like you said, mental health issues, putting people into prison doesn’t make them any better. They don’t have the programs there. But in everything, everything costs money. Someone says to me, oh, can we just do this? Well, everything costs money, and you’re just adding to the bill. So that’s one thing that costs money. Then you have other things that cost money, whether you don’t have enough staff to be able to do the things you need to do and all that. So, understanding you want to lobby for money, understanding that you have a finite budget right now, what would be the first thing you do when you, if you were to win, to attend to those mental health issues? What is one of the first things that you would do in there? Knowing that you have a finite budget, you know, you don’t have anything more coming at that moment.

Tuwanda Rush Williams 0:08:49

So the first thing that I would do as a judge is I would look for opportunities to sentence those with a diagnosed mental illness to arrangements that are not in our jail custody. So if they were a candidate to be able to be at home with counseling services and case manager, that’s where I would send them while they were awaiting trial, as opposed to putting them in our jail, because that would be the first thing I would do, is I would look for opportunities to send people who’ve been accused of crimes to their home environment, as opposed to putting them in the jail, which is a place where they’re just not going to get better and there’s just not enough resources. But then after I looked at who would be a good candidate for being home because everyone can’t be home with a diagnosed mental illness. Right. Then I would look for opportunities to advocate for the budget for a superior court to be expanded such that we can maybe take monies from some other area. Right. We have a mental health court. We have a veterans court. We also have a drug court. But the mental health court is where we have the greatest financial need simply because of the number of individuals who are coming through the court system with a diagnosed mental illness. So I would look at those other two courts to see if we could reallocate funds from those courts to the mental health court so that we could expand the budget to take care of those people. Viewpoint. Health will take individuals who do not have insurance or who are underinsured, who have a diagnosed mental health condition. The problem is that they only have 16 operable beds, which is just not enough, which shows you that they need to be expanded. They need to have larger facilities, more beds, more staffing. So we’ve got to figure out a way to cut the budget in some other areas in the county and add that money to mental health services.

Rico Figliolini 0:11:08

Let me ask you something. Not that we can solve the issues here, but the jail system is run by the sheriff. Correct? The budget and all that.

Tuwanda Rush Williams 0:11:16

It is. It is.

Rico Figliolini 0:11:17

So. And you’re moving with the thought is there’s 500 prisoners that have mental health issues. Obviously not all of them. Some of them are violent criminals that are going to have to sit there. There’s no other place to put them, most likely. Right. So if you’re moving 100 of them out of there, though, maybe. Does it make sense then to look at the jail system and say, okay, they’re spending a certain amount of money per prisoner doing that? I know this is not the norm, looking at budgets from different departments, but shifting money from within a department. Is that a county commission responsibility?

Tuwanda Rush Williams 0:11:57

It is a county commission responsibility, but the commissioners have to receive a budget from the various county courts and departments in order to set a budget for them. So you are correct. The budget, the overall budget is approved by the board of commissioners, but they have to receive a budget request from the court system as well as from the sheriff so that they can make the right decisions. So you’re correct.

Rico Figliolini 0:12:25

So when you know some of it’s okay. So aside from the mental health issues, which is a big issue, obviously there’s other issues within the system. Covid brought that to light to a degree. Right. And different things were done. Things were done differently a bit because of not being able to meet in person. Some of it’s successful. Some of it, I think, is still continuing. Some of it isn’t. Do you think that technology, the role of technology in modernizing the court system makes sense? You talked before about how individuals can’t meet their lawyers. Well, you know, is that an in person visit, or is that a lawyer that can meet them on a Zoom call? I mean, is there areas that you’d like to see changed, or, you know, within the court system that can be helpful?

Tuwanda Rush Williams 0:13:18

Yes, there are a couple of things that I’d like to see improve. One thing that we definitely need to improve is the number of lawyers that are appointed as indigent defense attorneys, because we have a large number of persons accused of crimes who cannot afford a lawyer. And so in Gwinnett county, we utilize private lawyers to represent those individuals, and they receive an hourly wage. That program is governed by an indigent defense governing committee, and I served on it for seven years before I left the county. And one thing that I’d like us to do to improve upon that system is to recruit more lawyers who are willing to defend persons who cannot afford a lawyer. What’s happening right now is the courts are backlogged with their criminal cases because there’s just not enough lawyers available to appoint to represent someone accused of a crime. And one thing we need to do is to increase the hourly rate of private lawyers who are able and willing to represent indigent persons. So I’d like to see the county improve the hourly rate for those individuals. Another thing I’d like to see is what you alluded to is greater use of technology. During COVID a lot of the hearings were held by Zoom, and that was great. When you just have a lawyer on either side of a case who has the ability to present information over Zoom, it doesn’t work for trials because you have to have a jury.

Rico Figliolini 0:15:09

And so that probably works best when you have the individual in person, actually.

Tuwanda Rush Williams 0:15:16

That is correct. And you’ve got to be able to determine that person’s demeanor and everything else. Right. But certainly we can continue to use technology for a routine motion, for example, you know, a motion to exclude evidence that certainly can be heard using virtual capability. So I’d like to see us continue to use technology for what I consider hearings and very short matters, and maybe even expand upon it, because it worked really well during COVID But much of the use of technology for virtual hearings has disappeared in the last couple of years. The judges, most of the judges, tend to have those hearings in person.

Rico Figliolini 0:16:06

Again, I think from one of the lawyers. I heard also, technology wise, that things are digitized, all the files that are digitized, so it’s easier to look them up. But the other problem with that is, of course, a lawyer can’t go back and check the cartons of files, let’s say, of things that maybe weren’t scanned, because not everything is scanned, unfortunately. It seems so. There’s a two edged sword right there, I think. Right? Yeah. You got to make sure everything scanned or you’re going to. And you’re going to have to still hold the physical evidence for later, right?

Tuwanda Rush Williams 0:16:50

Yes. Yes, absolutely. That is an issue.

Rico Figliolini 0:16:54

Okay. Do you feel, have you seen as a, as a lawyer, and do you foresee AI being an issue, whether it’s deep fakes or it’s documents being presented that are false documents, for example, do you see AI being an issue, or how would you attend to that technology in the run of the courts?

Tuwanda Rush Williams 0:17:18

That is a very good question. I have mixed feelings about AI. I think that it would be beneficial to use artificial intelligence for basic research purposes. So if the lawyer or the judge wants to know the statute of limitations for a particular civil case, then AI would be great, because you just simply ask, what is the statute of limitations? You get to answer, it’s easy. What I think is bad about AI for purposes of the courts is that AI is digitized, which means it has no feelings, it has no emotions. Right. So you cannot use AI to determine a person’s individual circumstances or background, particularly when you are making decisions based on family needs, custody arrangements, visitation arrangements, or when you are dealing with someone who has been accused of a crime. Because AI doesn’t have compassion, AI doesn’t have empathy. So I would never want to see a quote unquote robo judge. I think you have to have human beings making decisions and weighing the credibility of witnesses. But I do think that AI could actually speed up the handling of cases from the perspective of staff attorneys who conduct research for judges as well as for the lawyers themselves who represent clients.

Rico Figliolini 0:19:07

Dealing with public trust and transparency. Some are maybe true, maybe not true, maybe just myths, maybe just legends, maybe just people think this is the way the system is and it’s not fair. The reality could be a little different. So how would you handle or improve public trust in the judicial system? Because that always seems to be a negative thing there. But how would you try to improve that?

Tuwanda Rush Williams 0:19:38

Well, one of the things that I talk about on the campaign trail is the lack of visibility of our judges. And what I mean by that is most people don’t know who the judges are. Most people have no idea what types of matters are heard in each court. So one of the things that I would do to try to improve public trust is to require the judges to be more visible in the community and maybe have something like a. Just coffee with a judge once a month, where you put the judges on rotation so that the public members can come in and ask questions about the process. You know, how do I go about filing a lawsuit? What types of cases are heard in your court? For instance, you may have the probate court chief judge one month, and then you may have the state court chief judge another month, and then the superior court chief judge another month, and then the magistrate court and the recorder’s court and juvenile court. Just because if people don’t feel like they have access to the court system, they are less likely to trust the court system. They’re less likely to see it as fair. But when they are able to interact up close and personal with the judges, then they can ask the questions that they need to ask to feel more confident that the system is fair. So that’s one thing that I would do. Obviously, judges take an oath to be fair and to be impartial at all times. And, of course, they must use good judgment. They’re required to have continuing education, just like a lawyer. So there are things that are mandated by the code of judicial conduct of Georgia that judges are required to do to make sure that they maintain fairness and so that the public can trust that the decisions they make are legally sound and fair, but that’s not seen by the public. So I think we have to have our judges more visible in the community.

Rico Figliolini 0:21:57

Sounds good. To ensure impartiality and fairness in the judicial decisions. I know that, for example, there’s a family that I know that’s trying to get custody of the children of their daughter’s kids who passed away. And, you know, I know that the court system likes to make sure they prove they keep the kids with the immediate family, but sometimes that’s not always doable for a lot of different reasons. Maybe the individual person is not a good steward or caretaker for those kids. How do you, you know, you’re dealing with lawyers presenting cases versus the individuals per se, but how do you deal with that? How do you deal with that impartiality or the empathy that you should have in a case like that because you’re a judge?

Tuwanda Rush Williams 0:22:53

Well, again, you are relying on the lawyers for each party right to present evidence, and the standard is the best interest of the child. And because that is the legal standard. Depending upon the age of the children, the judge might hear from the children themselves. Right? And of course, if they are age 14, they can choose which, where they want to be, who has custody of them. If they are age twelve, the judge can take that into consideration as well. The judge can literally ask, you know, do you want to be with your paternal grandparents or do you want to be with your biological father? Tell me why. Tell me what your life experience has been to this point. And those hearings are held in camera, which means that the public is not allowed to come in and hear that minor share his or her story with the judge. But that’s one way that you would get at impartiality, which is actually considering what the child or the children want. But remember, you’re relying on the lawyers who represent these parties, who have also taken an oath to present all of the evidence that is uncovered, whether it’s for or against their client. And that goes directly to impartiality in the decision of the judge.

Rico Figliolini 0:24:28

With all the cases that you’ve tried, legal issues that you’ve handled, has there been any significant case or situation that has impacted you in a good way or bad?

Tuwanda Rush Williams 0:24:43

Well, for many, many years, I tried a lot of civil rights lawsuits, and I tried them in federal court, some in superior court. There’s one case that I tried involving an individual who sued Gwinnett county, as well as several Gwinnett county police officers for excessive force. And it involved an individual had allegedly stolen a television from an apartment complex. Our police was summoned to the scene, and our canine unit came. And in this particular case, the gentleman dropped the television that he was carrying, and he ran. And then he jumped down into a ravine. And our police officer sent the canine to retrieve the gentleman, and he was significantly, he has permanent disfigurement as a result of that. I won the case. I was able to show. Well, the interesting thing is the gentleman sued not just Gwinnett county and the officers, but the gentleman sued the canine, which was the strangest thing. I never had a case where somebody sued the dog, but in this case, he sued, which is insane. I was able to win the case, ultimately. At first, I lost the case trial level, because the judge determined that the use of force was. But I appealed the case to the US District Court of Appeals, and I won the case because I was able to show that the use of force was reasonable because this guy, you know, tried to escape. But the case gave me. I felt like I should have lost it only because I don’t believe that our officers follow proper protocol, because you cannot send the canine in to attack someone until you’ve given the suspect fair warning. And I don’t think that that was.

Rico Figliolini 0:27:18

How long ago was that the case?

Tuwanda Rush Williams 0:27:21

It was several years ago. I want to say it was in probably 2017, but that was the one case where I felt like we should not have won it. Between you and I, and this guy is now permanently disfigured. But other than that I feel very good about the decisions that were made, and I won 95% of the cases that I ever tried.

Rico Figliolini 0:27:48

And there’s a lot of cases out there. A lot of backlog of cases, apparently.

Tuwanda Rush Williams 0:27:54


Rico Figliolini 0:27:55

And I know you touched upon it a little bit, but it is a lot of cases out there. Is there any suggestions what you do to clear that backlog?

Tuwanda Rush Williams 0:28:05

Yes. So, of course, the backlog existed even before COVID but it was exacerbated by COVID, as we know. And that was largely because the courts actually had to shut down for a period of time because it was not out for the presence of the litigants. They had to put up plexiglass in the jury boxes. They had to put up plexiglass in front of the podium where the lawyer or the litigant speaks, and in front of the judge’s bench as well. And after that, the county was running about four years behind on the criminal cases and probably three years behind on the civil cases. And criminal cases legally have to be tried. One of the things that definitely needs to be done more of is greater use of senior judges. We use magistrate judges to handle cases. In fact, my opponent is a magistrate judge, and she handles a lot of family law cases and criminal law cases. She’s not utilized for a lot of the areas that I do, like your property tax appeals and condemnations and stormwater cases and, you know, those kinds of suits, because her background was criminal law and family law. But we need to also employ greater use of senior judges. We use some senior judges, but in order to clear the backlog, we need to use more. These are individuals who have retired from the bench, but they will come back and handle cases for a very hefty hourly rate. Some will say they get paid more as senior judges than they did when they were full time.

Rico Figliolini 0:30:06

Is that what you want to do, though?

Tuwanda Rush Williams 0:30:08

I’m sorry?

Rico Figliolini 0:30:09

Is that what you want to do, though? I mean, that’s just add to more exasperated. More to the budget, I guess.

Tuwanda Rush Williams 0:30:16

Well, I think you’ve got to clear the backlog and so even though it does add more to the budget, they already have the experience to handle those cases because they were judges until they retired. So they can resolve them a lot quicker because they’ve seen the issues before. So I think you want to use more senior judges. They are already using magistrate judges in superior court. They’re not fully using them in state as they can. But superior court does use part time and full time magistrate judges to clear the backlog. And my honest opinion is that Gwinnett county needs more superior court judge seats. We have eleven full time superior court judges and Fulton county has 17. And yet we are the second largest county in the state.

Rico Figliolini 0:31:13

Why is that? A lot more crime?

Tuwanda Rush Williams 0:31:16

You got to have somebody to advocate for it. You got to have your elected state representatives and your senators to say, we need more full time superior court judges. And we are asking the state. It takes someone to advocate for it. Just 11th position in 2021.

Rico Figliolini 0:31:44

Long time ago and things just got more busier. County is growing. Have we touched, is there anything we haven’t touched upon that you’d like to mention?

Tuwanda Rush Williams 0:31:56

I just wanted to share my background and experience as opposed to my opponents, because what I found during the runoff was that somehow people think my opponent is the incumbent because she is a magistrate judge. And, you know, I want the voters to know she’s not the incumbent. There is no incumbent in this race. This is an open, nonpartisan seat, which means that our names appear on any ballot that you pull. Because candidates for judge must run nonpartisan, because they should. Because the judge’s responsibility is to follow the law of the state and the law of the land and not interpose his or her opinion or prejudge a case. So my position is an open position, which means there is no incumbent. We are seeking to replace a judge who is retiring at the end of the year. And I also wanted to state that when you are looking for someone to elect to the bench, I think you need to take into account more factors than just this person is already a judge. You need to consider diversity of experience. I know 25 years of the law very well because I was a government lawyer for most of my career. My opponent doesn’t have that background as a lawyer. And there’s a difference between practicing law, being a zealous advocate for someone, and being a judge who considers the weight of the evidence, the facts and the law. You also want someone who has ties to the community. And I have served Gwinnett county for the last 24 years that I’ve been here. I have served on a lot of nonprofits. I’ve performed hundreds of hours of community service, and so I am woven into the fabric of Gwinnett County. I know Gwinnett County. I know its citizens. Im a leadership Gwinnett grad. I’ve worked on several learning day committees on Gwinnett giving girls, nonprofit, hope nonprofit. I’ve been on family promise of Gwinnett. I’ve done a lot. Very active in the Gwinnett county alumni chapter of Delta Sig Pothatus rorty incorporated. So I’m committed. I have a longstanding history of service to the county, in addition to having been in the county attorney’s office for 18 years until I had to resign in order to run. I would hope the voters would consider all of that. And just saying, well, you know, this person’s already a judge. She’s not a superior court judge. Never has been, never been elected. Neither have I. So we’re equal in that regard.

Rico Figliolini 0:34:50

Okay. I think pretty much you’ve given the speech where you’re asking for the vote, so that’s pretty good. So that’s good. That’s what you should be. Because if you don’t ask for it, you don’t get it. Where can people find out more information about Tuwanda Rush Williams? What website? Where can they find you?

Tuwanda Rush Williams 0:35:12

Absolutely. My website is tuwanda4judge.com. So it’s spelled like my name. Tuwanda, the number four, judge.com. and there’s all kinds of information on there about me and tons of endorsement. Charlotte Nash is someone who has endorsed me. Many people know who she is as well as the former district attorney Danny Porter. You can find my entire bio, all the places that I’ve worked, all the other reasons why I’m running beyond my concern for the people who are sitting in the jail with mental illness. We need to reduce crime and recidivism. We need to offer better support for survivors of human trafficking in Gwinnett. Huge problem. So I hope they’ll check me out there.

Rico Figliolini 0:36:02

Cool. Well, Tuwanda, I appreciate you being on the show with us and answering questions and talking about the issues that you want to let everyone remind everyone. Again, June 18 is the runoff date. There is early voting, depending when you’re listening to this, and I’ll have that in the show notes as well. The opponent is Regina Matthews. So there’s only two of them. So go listen to the podcast, be out there, Google their names. You should be able to find out more information. Again, Tuwanda, stay there with us for a minute. Everyone else thank you again. Yeah, no, for sure. And thank you again, everyone, for listening. There’ll be more information as well at livinginpeachtreecorners.com or southwestgwinnettmagazine.com. so check that out. Follow us on social media and appreciate you being with us. Thank you.

Tuwanda Rush Williams 0:36:54

Thank you.

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Food & Drink

Sucré: New Orleans-Style Luxury Pastry Shop Opening in Peachtree Corners



Opening this fall at The Forum Peachtree Corners

Abney Harper, co-owner of the luxury New Orleans brand Sucré, shares her journey into the culinary world. Sucré recently opened its first location outside of New Orleans in Woodstock, Atlanta, marking an exciting expansion. Abney hopes to create a beautiful, magical experience showcasing handcrafted, complex pastries while ensuring quality and consistency. The Forum Peachtree Corners will open this fall, 2024. This interview by Rico Figliolini

Podcast Timestamp (where to find it in the podcast):
00:00:00 – Abney Harper’s Journey
00:01:44 – Sucré: New Orleans-Style Luxury Pastry Shop
00:03:37 – From Law to Pastry: A Serendipitous Journey
00:06:16 – Expanding Sucré’s Presence in Georgia
00:08:09 – From Restaurants to Pastries
00:12:47 – Navigating the Challenges of Scaling a Business Across States
00:15:18 – Navigating Regulations and Expansion Plans
00:17:22 – Expanding Sucré Brand Beyond New Orleans
00:20:08 – Discovering A New Orleans Passion
00:21:24 – Bringing the Essence of New Orleans to Atlanta

Podcast Transcript:

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