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Let’s talk Criterium Cycling Race, Pickleball Courts in Peachtree Corners [Podcast]

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The Curiosity Lab Criterium 2023 @ Peachtree Corners is coming on Wednesday, April 26, during Speedweek. What does that mean for our smart city and what does AUDI have to do with it? Plus, we talk about a pickleball center with 30-50 courts and what that could look like in Peachtree Corners. Listen in to our podcast with City Manager Brian Johnson and your host Rico Figliolini.

Related Links:
https://www.bikereg.com/59731

Timestamp:

[00:00:30] – Intro
[00:01:42] – The Curiosity Lab Criterium
[00:06:49] – New VRU Technology
[00:16:32] – Pickleball in Peachtree Corners
[00:23:54] – Expanding Activities
[00:30:14] – Next Planning Commission Meeting
[00:31:58] – Closing

“This criterium, if it generates enough activity and interest from the technology industry, could become a reoccurring event… A lot of this is trial and error and we’ve got to come up with a mix of how much of this is benefiting the community and to what degree?  Is the juice worth the squeeze? So to speak… (The Criterium) is just a way of trying to make our community  very diverse in all aspects, including diversity of unique community events.”

BRIAN JOHNSON

Podcast Transcript:

[00:00:30] Rico: Hey everyone, this is Rico Figliolini with Peachtree Corners Life. And this is Prime Lunchtime with the City Manager Brian Johnson. Hey Brian, how are you?

[00:00:37] Brian: Good, Rico, how are you?

[00:00:39] Rico: Good. I love doing this every month. Get to learn new things that I didn’t, know before. Because I don’t know everything, so this is why we do this.

[00:00:47] Brian: Neither do I though, so.

[00:00:50] Rico: I know some things, maybe we can have one brain together.

[00:00:52] Brian: So there we go.

[00:00:54] Rico: But before we get into the interview and stuff let me just say thank you again to Eli from EV Remodeling Inc. Who’s a corporate sponsor of ours and supports our journalism. That’s just through advertising with us, but also supporting these podcasts. Great guy, lives right here in Peachtree Corners. We just had a feature story on him as well in the recent issue of Peachtree Corners Magazine. So check that out. It’s online now. See what he’s doing. Design to build home renovation. Great guy, beautiful family. Check him out at EVRemodelinginc.com. Thank you, Eli. So let’s get right into it. We found out something just now, you know, in our pre-talk, before the show about something I didn’t know that’s happening April 26th, which is kind of cool. That the city’s actually doing this. So tell us a little bit about this. What’s a race and what type of race it is and why it’s there?

[00:01:42] Brian: So we’ve enjoyed seeing Curiosity Lab continues to kind of, generate unique opportunities for the city. And an opportunity kind of fell into our lap through Curiosity Lab’s partnerships and interactions for us to have a professional cycling race here in Peachtree Corners. Now…

[00:02:06] Rico: Wow. That is cool.

[00:02:07] Brian: It’s important to know that within professional cycling, there’s generally three types of cycling races. One would be done indoors in a velodrome.

[00:02:21] Rico: Right.

[00:02:21] Brian: Which is a banked type course. You generally only see that on TV during the Olympics.

[00:02:27] Rico: Right.

[00:02:27] Brian: But that’s one type. Probably the most popular one that people know is called a road race. And a road course is, you start on point a, and you end at a different point and you don’t cross over the same point more than once. Like Tour de France would be the best example of that.

[00:02:46] Rico: Right.

[00:02:46] Brian: You never end at the place that you start. It’s a linear course.

[00:02:50] Rico: Right.

[00:02:50] Brian: So if you’re watching that one, you only get to see the cyclists come by one time.

[00:02:56] Rico: Right. If you’re lucky. Yeah

[00:02:57] Brian: That’s it. But there is a third type of race, and it’s called a criterium. And a criterium is a closed race on city streets, usually done in a way in which, well, not usually it’s the course is laid out in a way that you’re going back over the same place over and over for a period of time. And it’s more fan friendly, but yet it’s not in, you know, it’s on city streets. So you set it up. For those who like maybe went to Georgia or go up to Athens, there’s a big one, long time one there called the Twilight, Athens Twilight. It’s done at night. It’s a cool event. I mean, you get to see professional cyclists, some of which are ones that are in the tour of France when it happens, in July of this year or every year. This is their full-time job. And in the US there is a criterium series that USA cycling manages throughout the entire US. And the race series or the race calendar starts here in the southeast, because our weather gets hotter than in a lot of the country. In fact the very first race of the year, oftentimes there’s a few jockeying cities within the southeast here. The last city I managed, Aniston, Alabama, when we were there, we were the very first race on the circuit. They’re third this year, they didn’t get the first one. But so I have some experience in managing, not directly, there is a race director that actually runs the event, but being the city manager of a city that had it. Back in the day, I used to race in them. So as an amateur, you can race in them. And how it’s set up is kind of a day long event and you’ll start, and there are categories, and the categories are time. So pretend like you had a one mile circle on city streets. Different categories of racers starting with amateur weekend warriors, you know, they don’t do it a lot. They can go out and race. And they’ll do like 30 minutes. So it’s basically like everybody starts at the same time. And you go around for 30 minutes and you’ll hear a bell at the very last lap. And whoever comes in first wins that race. And they’ll move up in categories from ones who have never done it all the way up to the professionals over the course of the day. So you’ll have, and there’s five categories. Five being the most amateur and you’ll have like, cat five men. Or it starts with cat five women. So it’ll be women racing, amateur women racing against amateur women, and then cat five men, and then cat four women, and then cat four men. Then you have breaks every day, or after every race.

[00:05:54] Rico: Through the day, right?

[00:05:56] Brian: Yep. You’ll reset the next one and then they’ll go.

[00:05:58] Rico: So is it a one mile race or is it, has that been established?

[00:06:01] Brian: It’s timed. So these racers are usually averaging probably 30 miles an hour. And so, for 30 minutes for amateurs at 30 miles an hour, you can do the math. So it’s not like a one mile race.

[00:06:16] Rico: Gotcha.

[00:06:16] Brian: Although, there is a kids race as well. And it’ll be three age categories. Three age, three to four year olds, five to six year olds, and seven and eight year olds.

[00:06:30] Rico: Yeah, yeah.

[00:06:31] Brian: It’s about a hundred, maybe 125 yards, like a football field in length. And it’s just, start here and end somewhere else. And then you start them all on the line and then you see who can get to the finish line the fastest.

[00:06:46] Rico: So where is this going to take place then?

[00:06:49] Brian: Alright, so this criteria. A very cool way to watch professionally, a professional cyclist, especially when married up with things that make it unique for the family, like food trucks and vendors for you to see things or whatever. Well, these things happen all over the country and Curiosity Lab happened to be the location and we were starting to talk to some companies that have technology that is getting ready to be deployed, that are in the call it safety area for vulnerable road users. And vulnerable road users, or VRU is a category that includes pedestrians, cyclists, people that might be on an e-scooter, moped, motorcycle. Anybody who uses a roadway or sidewalks or crosses roadway, that is not in a car. Those are considered vulnerable road users, because if they have an interaction with an automobile, they’re going to lose. A pedestrian hits a car, the car will win all the time.

[00:07:57] Rico: I think we all know someone that’s been hit on a bike by a car. Or especially around these areas.

[00:08:04] Brian: I have.

[00:08:05] Rico: Really? Damn.

[00:08:06] Brian: Oh yeah, about four years ago I got hit cycling up in Duluth.

[00:08:11] Rico: Yeah, there’s quite a few people it seems, sadly.

[00:08:14] Brian: Oh yeah. I mean, it’s scary when that happens, but there’s technology that is evolving to try to prevent these things from happening. And one of the technologies is a device that can go on bicycles. It can actually, it’s a mobile, it could be carried by anybody. It could be put in any car. But it’s basically a device that sends a signal, basically saying, I’m here. Here I am. And the device is done in such a way that vehicles will one day be able to hear that message from that other user. Versus right now automobiles have sensors that they can sense if there’s an obstacle. We have it in newer cars. You know, a lot of cars now, if you’re backing up and there’s something or even in the front, sometimes you get close and it’ll start beeping. That’s the cars own signal where it’s sending a signal out and it’s getting bounced back. But what it doesn’t have is the ability to see around corners or if somebody’s coming up and it’s not quite close enough for the car itself to detect it.

[00:09:32] Rico: Put that signal out.

[00:09:32] Brian: These devices are sending a signal a lot farther out or sometimes around corners saying, here I am. And the car can then know, and you can make it specific. Like if it’s on a bicycle, it can send a message that this device is on a bicycle. And then cars can actually see, like a message on your dashboard saying like, cyclist on your right, cyclist to your rear. And it alerts the driver that I’ve got a vulnerable road user around here somewhere that I might not have known had I not had this device telling my car about that VRU. So this technology is being deployed by a company called Spoke, and they had brought with them partners in Qualcomm, BMC Bike, which is the big Swiss bike manufacturer, and Audi. And they wanted a testing environment or an environment that the roadway was set up for them to showcase this technology. And we started talking at a conference in January that we were at. And I knew about criteriums, they were talking about this, doing this, and I was like, would you guys be willing to do this? At a race where we’ve got all these people showing up to watch? And they were just like, that would be the best opportunity for us that you could get.

[00:11:00] Rico: Sure.

[00:11:00] Brian: So I came back and I knew about this because of my previous city I managed. And just one more thing on the calendar. The beginning of the criterium season in the US, here in Metro Atlanta, there’s a thing called Speed Week. And it’s basically the first and second race of the year are weekends. And in between you have a couple of Metro Atlanta criteriums. And on the Wednesday of Speed Week, right in the middle of it, where the racing teams are already in Metro Atlanta is when we’re going to do, it’s when it could fit into. So you’ve got all these racing teams with all these bikes and salaried professional cyclists that travel with them. Well now they’re here. They love it because they don’t have to drive to the next race and all the logistics involved. So you have a lot of that. So we decided to do a race on Wednesday, starting at 3:30 in the afternoon out here on part of our autonomous vehicle test track right here out in front of City Hall. And they’re going to basically do what’s called a dumbbell, which is, they go down the race course and then they do a circle, and then they come back the same, and then they do another circle, and then they go back the same.

[00:12:25] Rico: I gotcha. Okay.

[00:12:26] Brian: It’ll look like two lollipops. So in front of City Hall you’re going to see them really four times in each lap. So it’s a great place to set up your lawn chairs, you know your tailgating chairs. Have the food trucks here at City Hall, get to see some of this cool technology, get to see professional cyclists. The play-by-play announcer is going to be Frankie Andreu, which is Lance Armstrong’s very first roommate. Back when they were racing in the Tour de France before. And he was the one involved in the trial with the the US anti-doping agency and everything. I mean, but great dude. Longtime professional cyclist himself. We’re going to have a bunch of vendors with some of this cool technology. We’re going to have a lot of bike manufacturers and others here. So it’ll be kind of like a little bit of a mini festival feel.

[00:13:23] Rico: Yeah. That sounds great.

[00:13:24] Brian: Come out and watch the professional cyclists. So it’ll start at 3:30, and as you go through all these categories, the last race is going to be the men’s professional race, starting at around 8:30 PM and they’ll go for one hour. So it’ll end around 9:30. And you know, Wednesday is a school night. We get it. But you know, you don’t have to stay the whole time. But it’s a great place to come eat dinner. Have some, we’re talking to some of the local micro brews of having some stuff out here. But it’s just a great place to see something that not all cities can set up. And in our case, we’re going to have a lot of cutting edge safety technology that you can’t, it can’t be showcased anywhere else because our city streets are set up to do this. And so we’re uniquely positioned, which is why all these big companies are like, oh, heck yeah. We want your location. And remember we’re talking about Audi here.

[00:14:24] Rico: Yeah, I mean, that’s exciting. I mean, it’s good to see the fruit from the efforts of going out to Europe and Israel and places like that to talk about what this city does. So, and then bring back that economic impact. So it’s great to do that. Plus, I mean, I, Jim Stone who heads Tytan Pictures?

[00:14:41] Brian: Yes.

[00:14:41] Rico: I know he’s a road racer. Some of his people are too. They do amateur stuff, but he’s constantly out there, riding from 41.

[00:14:49] Brian: Yes. And him and I have done this together. He worked with me and Aniston when we did the Sunny King Criterium, which is the one there. So Jim will be involved in this. Jim also like me, did crits for a long time. He did Velodrome stuff as an amateur athlete.

[00:15:05] Rico: Wow, okay. Yeah, I didn’t know that part.

[00:15:08] Brian: What this does is it gets the community a pretty unique, cool event that we wouldn’t have had, had it not dropped in our path.

[00:15:16] Rico: Right. And drawing from people from all over the place. I know there’s a pretty big youth cycling group out of Suwanee. I think, I mean, they probably would love to be part of this.

[00:15:26] Brian: That’s why Speed Week was so important. Speed Week has, every other day in between the two weekends is a race somewhere in Metro Atlanta. We just happened to steal one of the slots, the prime in the middle of the week’s slot because all these racing teams and everyone were like, oh, that’s a cool, that’s a cool reason to have it, all the technology. And there’s going to be potentially some technology, some of these devices, we’re going to get some and we’re going to distribute it amongst our local cyclists to further refine it and kind of call it, trial it out in the community as they ride. Some people don’t realize that Peachtree Corners has a cycling club.

[00:16:11] Rico: Yes.

[00:16:11] Brian: It’s called the Peachtree Corners Cycling Club. And you’ll sometimes see them out in a group riding, they do group rides. So yeah, it’s gonna be a really cool event. More to follow. But that’s happening April 26th, which is a Wednesday, starting at 3:30 ’till about 9:30. And it’s a great way to watch both amateurs and professionals race really fast bicycles.

[00:16:32] Rico: So from one great event and sport to another growing sport. You know, this city can be a lot of different things. So it’s not just smart city that we talk about, but there’s a lot of things that go on here. A lot of things people are not even aware of that we write stories about in our magazines and online that people will all of a sudden like, oh, I didn’t know. That’s cool. So the next thing, I mean, we were talking about this and I’ve just started getting into the idea of pickleball. Pickleball is a growing sport in the United States. Actually, it’s from the West Coast, I think. It’s been growing leaps and bounds. I mean, we, there are pickleball tournaments being played here in Peachtree Corners now. People are probably not aware of it at lifetime. And we were talking before and you were talking about how the city may be doing a feasibility study about a private public partnership with someone to bring in 30, 40 pickleball courts. Maybe a facility that can attract national tournaments. Or maybe even, and maybe even create our own invitational tournament. That would be kind of cool. I know this is just basic starting out of the gate, you’re still trying to look and see what you have to do, but what do you have in mind? And, well, what can you tell us so far? .

[00:17:44] Brian: So you hit on a couple of important points, and one is, you know, pickleball is the fastest growing sport. And it has certainly been, there’s a lot of examples out there of cities using it, starting to use it as an economic development driver in and of itself. Because there’s so many people who are wanting to do it. I’ve seen it in the community. There’s been some community tennis facilities that have, even private ones that have converted some of their tennis courts into pickleball because the demand, even from the tennis community. And there’s some that transition from tennis to pickleball because they feel like as they’ve gotten older, there’s less running it’s easier on the joints and whatever. And then others do both still. Some are like, I never played tennis and so I never developed the ability to do it, but pickleball doesn’t require quite as much technical proficiency when it comes to your racket technique. Your, you know, your stroke technique and everything. And so it’s a little bit more like, you know, ping pong on steroids, you know.

[00:18:58] Rico: Yeah. Or paddleball even.

[00:19:01] Brian: It’s like in between tennis and ping pong. And so people are like, alright I kind of like it. So anyway, it doesn’t really matter why it’s growing. It is. Given that, and given that we have one of the highest number of tennis courts per capita of any city around when you include, 16 courts that Fields Club has and what does Lifetime have? 22 courts or whatever. Now they’ve got, yeah, indoor. And you’ve got a number of other clubs that have it as well. Then you go just right outside our border and you have an Atlanta Athletic Club. We have a lot of tennis. And those are, some of those are migrating to pickleball, so we’re kind of, we recognize that there may be something here. So what we’re doing is a feasibility study on whether we can, as a city be a facilitator at some level of having a pickleball facility constructed in the city that is big enough and enticing enough. Not too big, but enough that it is attracting weekend tournaments. And if you’ve ever had kids in organized sports that do the travel stuff, you only can go where there are the facilities. And I’ve had kids, you know, my daughter’s big into volleyball and Lake Point, North I75 in between here and Chattanooga is a massive volleyball and baseball facility in the middle of nowhere. But it attracts big time tournaments on the weekend because that’s where the facilities are. If you want to have a volleyball tournament with 500 teams, you’ve got to have a massive facility to do it. Doing that, you’ve got all this ancillary activity.

[00:20:54] Rico: Right. And they’re running these tournaments for like whole weekends, sometimes a week if it’s during the summer, but usually it’s a three day weekend of tournaments from early morning to late night. Because they have it all lit and stuff. I mean, it’s just unbelievable. I mean, that’s just a business. Anyone that has kids doing travel team knows how much money it costs just to do that stuff.

[00:21:14] Brian: Yeah, yeah. Because you, yeah, you’ve got to stay in a hotel there. You’re generally, you don’t know when you’re going to, who’s gonna lose and when.

[00:21:21] Rico: Right.

[00:21:21] Brian: What your next, you can’t really plan on meals, so you’re usually eating in local restaurants. And then oftentimes you’re staying overnight and now you’ve got the evening where you’re like, all right, we’ve got some time to kill. What are we going to do? So it is a driver. And sales tax, lodging tax. And in pickleball’s case, unlike say if you were going to build a massive tennis facility, pickleball doesn’t require near as much space. You can essentially get two pickleball courts on one tennis court. And you can oftentimes go multiple stories because you don’t need the height that you would in tennis.

[00:21:58] Rico: True.

[00:21:59] Brian: So there are some opportunities to do it different. And so what we’re doing is we’re going to see where is the sweet spot? What would it, what size, and how would it look like if we constructed that pickleball specific facility and got those tournaments. And what kind of economic development activity would it in and of itself generate to better the city? Whether it’s to enhance an area that already has some of it, or maybe it’s in an area that needs redevelopment and needs a shot in the arm. We’ll look at, you know, the feasibility study will tell us what type of acreage we need. And then our job as a city, aside from doing this and identifying it, is to then start to cobble together those private players in this. And why that’s important is the city is not looking to just solely build this facility and then run it as a recreational component.

[00:23:02] Rico: I mean, yeah, some cities have like.

[00:23:04] Brian: We could do that, but we’re not, yeah.

[00:23:06] Rico: But then you have the maintenance and the budget to run it year in and year out. Like you said before, as we were doing, as we were doing our pre-talk before the show, public-private partnership makes more sense. Well at least the public partnerships in the sense of facilitating things to be done by a private entity that’s interested in investing in this here to help make it easier for that type of facility to get here.

[00:23:31] Brian: That is exactly a perfect scenario would be the private sector builds it and the private sector operates it and you know, whatever money they make with it, that’s great. The city has no involvement in it. However we win, because it generates the activity. And the sales tax and lodging tax that come from hotel stays and restaurants and other stuff is what ultimately does come back to the city.

[00:23:54] Rico: If we talk, we were talking about like 30, 40 courts, maybe 50 courts. Part of that feasibility study would be checking out other tournaments, national tournaments, national organizations, regional players. And it doesn’t exclude a city like ours from doing a Peachtree Corners Pickleball Invitational or driving some of our own events. We’ve talked about the only real event that the city puts on, well officially we’re just a sponsor of Peachtree Corners Festival. It’s not even like a city event.

[00:24:24] Brian: That’s right. It’s not the city’s. I mean, right now it’s really the concert series.

[00:24:29] Rico: That’s right. Okay.

[00:24:31] Brian: You know the concert series, you could maybe argue, we’ve had two years of the decathlon on the fitness trail.

[00:24:37] Rico: Right. Cool. And that, that gets better.

[00:24:39] Brian: But it is an event that people travel to. This criterium, if it generates, enough activity and interest from industry, technology industry, it could become a reoccurring event. And it is known maybe even nationally or internationally as the bike race that new safety technology is showcased every year because of Curiosity Lab. But a lot of this is trial by error and we’ve got to come up with a mix of how much of this is benefiting the community and to what degree? You know, is the juice worth the squeeze, so to speak? Is it a lot of effort by the city, but the community is like, eh, or maybe it’s not a lot of effort by the city and maybe it’s not. The decathlon has a very unique interest base, but it doesn’t require a lot of resources from the city, so it’s not a lot of squeeze net necessary. Criterium a little bit more, but still it’s not as. So, this is just a way of trying to make our community very, diverse in all aspects, including diversity of unique community events.

[00:25:44] Rico: Yeah. This is, this is what I like about it. What I like about it is, and what I like about what, how the city looks at things, is that it’s not just, you know, we talk about being a smart city and all, but we have a lot a lot of places that attract people here. Right? Simpsonwood Park, Wesleyan, Cornerstone, private schools, great private schools, great public schools, IB programs at Norcross High School and through the school system. You know, we have other things. It’s interesting what attracts you and what it comes to the city even at, that are taking place at the Hilton, for example, events and conferences that people are not even familiar with that get.

[00:26:21] Brian: There’s a range of stuff. There’s like a whiskey tasting conference. There’s been a fleet management conference and there’s been, yes. And the Marriott’s got some stuff too. And you’ve got, you know, you do have baseball tournaments at Pinkneyville Park.

[00:26:37] Rico: Correct, right.

[00:26:38] Brian: I mean, even just outside our border or you know, our city limits, like the Gwinnett Aquatic Center has swim meets, you know.

[00:26:45] Rico: That’s right.

[00:26:46] Brian: We want stuff like every weekend there’s, you know, it would be great like, oh, you know what have they got going on this weekend? Maybe it’s something they’re interested in, maybe not, but we like the diversity of it. And to council’s credit, I mean, these things also help pull people that spend money in our restaurants, our stores. And that makes them healthy. It keeps them here. And so you can’t just sit back and cross your fingers and just be like, well, I hope the Forum generates activity on its own. No, I mean, the Forum’s management company is artificially pushing activity to, or attracting is probably a better way by programming. They have events and unique things there. You know, the Twilight Run.

[00:27:33] Rico: Yeah. Light Up the Corners.

[00:27:35] Brian: Or Light Up the Corners. Yeah, the Light Up the Corners. That is a cool event, a night run, and it’s done at the Forum. I mean, that’s it’s important stuff. So pickleball could be in that list if it works out and the city can kind of facilitate getting all these players involved and finding the location and everything. A pickleball facility done right, could become a magnet for activity of people who do things before or after their pickleball league play or their pickleball tournament

[00:28:11] Rico: And still, and also serve the citizens here, because there’s lots of people getting more and more into pickleball the same way.

[00:28:18] Brian: Well, that’s why the league play. That’s why the league play in between the weekend tournaments is for the residents, yeah.

[00:28:23] Rico: Right. So there’s that. I mean, we talked about an art center as well at some point, an art culture center at some point. There’s just such a good future here of a variety of things that can happen. So I’m excited by that. Not knowing that was happening.

[00:28:38] Brian: Yeah, I mean, you know, again, devil’s in the details. But we are certainly going to get all the details and make a decision then. But, you know, to council’s credit, mayor and council are very open minded to exploring new things. They’re innovative. There’s outside the box thinking about economic development. When you are the second largest city without city property tax, it is even more imperative that we are constantly doing what we can to ensure that the commerce that generates sales tax is healthy. Because if it isn’t and those revenue streams dried up, the city has, it would have a decision to make. We either have to decrease the level and breadth of our services to cut costs or we would have to levy a milage rate and the city doesn’t want to do either. So mayor and council are very clear to me, and staff is, they do some of it on their own, is being very innovative in thinking about ways that we can keep our commerce at a high level so that we can keep that zero milage rate.

[00:29:51] Rico: And we’ve been fortunate as a city for over 10 years now. Going through even a depressive part of that recession part, I guess, that we’re still able to have enough money to do the things that we feel we need to do. I mean, city marshal system that the city’s looking into.

[00:30:06] Brian: Done within the budget without having to go out and get other revenue streams.

[00:30:12] Rico: Right.

[00:30:13] Brian: Yeah, absolutely.

[00:30:14] Rico: So all good stuff. We’ve spent a lot of time together. We covered a couple of pretty big things. So I guess the last thing I just want to really just touch on is that we did have a comprehensive plan, the first public meeting this past Thursday. And I was meaning to get there. Obviously I didn’t, but I’m sure it went really well. Do you have a couple of quick things you want to mention about that? And when’s the next one that’s coming up? Because I think there’s a second one, isn’t there?

[00:30:41] Brian: Yeah. So let’s see. The next one is at the next planning commission meeting, which is…

[00:30:47] Rico: Oh, okay. Is that the, in March?

[00:30:50] Brian: Is it the 21st?

[00:30:52] Rico: Yeah, that would be the 21st because the 28th is City Council.

[00:30:55] Brian: Yes. So yeah, March 21st, that’ll be the next one. The first one we had, I believe Diana, the Community Development Director told me we had 125 people.

[00:31:07] Rico: Cool. That’s a lot of people.

[00:31:10] Brian: Yes. People should go to the website or who, those who have, accepted push notifications. We have a survey out right now on weighing in on housing. That was the main theme of this last community meeting, or I guess the first official comp plan meeting, it was housing was the main theme. Asking people their thoughts on housing and where certain types should go and things like that. We’ll have some other additional ones, themes like public safety, transportation. These are events that if you care about the city and want to have your input on a document that guides over the next 10 years the decisions that council’s making. Now’s the time to get your input in.

[00:31:58] Rico: Cool, alright. So no excuse. Just go to the city’s website to find out a little bit more. Next public meeting again, March 21st. Planning Commission Meeting at City Hall. Cool. We’ll put out the links in our show notes as well, and you’ll be hearing it from us. Brian, thank you. Hang on with me for another minute. But thank you to our audience. Thank you for EV Remodeling, for being a sponsor of ours. And look for the next issue of Southwest Gwinnett Magazine that’s coming out. And that issue has a cover story about a young lady from Peachtree Corners, a middle schooler who became one of five girls to be part of this inspiration thing with Disney World and diverse dolls that they’ve created. It’s a cool story, so check it out. She’s our cover story. But thanks again for being with us. Thanks, Brian. Take care.

[00:32:44] Brian: Thank you.

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Elections and Politics

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

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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.

Resources:
Regina’s Website: 
https://judgematthews.com/

Timestamp:
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

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

Correct.

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

Okay.

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

Yeah.

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

Yep.

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

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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.

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

Timestamp:
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

Yes.

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

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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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