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Town Center Updates, Lululemon and Attracting New Companies

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On this episode of Prime Lunchtime, host Rico Figliolini speaks with Peachtree Corners city manager Brian Johnson about the challenges the city is facing and the innovative ways they are addressing them. Brian provides insight into the policies and strategies that Peachtree Corners is exploring to combat today’s issues, including the recent Lululemon incident Additionally, listeners will hear about the city’s efforts to attract businesses, renovate popular gathering spots, and improve infrastructure.

Timestamp Where to find it in the podcast:

[0:00:00] – Intro
[0:02:22] – Incident at Lululemon
[0:17:12] – Companies Moving into Peachtree Corners
[0:23:28] – Updates to the Town Green
[0:31:41] – Closing

“We’ve scheduled some meetings with some of the entities that can do some things to help… It’s important to note that our camera system, the city’s camera system, is unequivocally the reason why police were able to identify and ultimately apprehend the last two homicide instances we had here. So we know it works, we want to have as much of it as we can, so we’ll do our part.”

Brian johnson

Podcast Transcript

Rico Figliolini 0:00:00

Hi. Everyone, this is Rico Figliolini, host of Peachtree Corners Life and today, as usual, once a month we talk with city manager Brian Johnson. Hey Brian, thanks for joining me.

Brian Johnson 0:00:11

Rico, thanks for having me.

Rico Figliolini 0:00:13

Yeah, it’s always good, doing this once a month, although I call this Prime Lunchtime with the city manager. We’re not having lunch, but it’s during lunchtime, so I appreciate you giving that hour up. Before we get into it and some of the discussions about what’s going on, I just want to introduce our sponsors. We actually have two beginning with this episode. One is our lead sponsor of EV Remodeling. Eli, who owns it and lives here in Peachtree Corners, has been a great supporter of us. It’s going on our second year. EV Remodeling does a lot of the renovation work from start to finish. You can find their work both in an article we did online at our website, livinginpeachtreecorners.com or go visit evremodelinginc.com. Eli’s a great guy, great family, does some really good work. So check them out. New sponsor beginning this month is Clear Wave Fiber. They’re here in Peachtree Corners. They were actually an elite sponsor of the Criterion Road race that we just had with Curiosity Lab. They’re 100% fiber. They’ll take care of your business and your home, so you should check them out. It’s Clear Wave Fiber and we appreciate them being part of our corporate sponsor family. So thank you for doing that. So, Brian, I guess the first thing that we should talk about and get out of the way is something that’s hit. Even though we’re so local in such a small town. In the scheme of things, Peachtree Corners has been like all of a sudden, I find our name on the New York Post, the UK Mail. And a lot of it has to really do not with us as a city, but with Lululemon, which is a store that is in the Forum. It’s a nationally known brand, my daughter buys from there too. It’s a great brand, but things happened just a week or two ago, caught on video and that was made public. It’s not unusual that it hasn’t happened in other places, but we’ve hit the map because of that. So can you tell us a little bit about that? We had a discussion about it.

Brian Johnson 0:02:22

Well, you’re right. What we did is we kind of got caught in the middle of what is national phenomenon, it appears, and that is there have been some corporations like Lululemon, there are a number of other ones that have adopted a policy that affects their response to shoplifting or theft of any kind of merchandise from the stores. And the policy regulates the employees behavior during and after. And it’s kind of twofold. One is, policies are generally that if they’re witnessing a shoplifting or a theft, theft in progress is to not intervene directly, is to not engage directly the individual or individuals doing it. And that one is when you read the articles and some of the studies on this stuff that’s generally for the safety of the employees, you don’t know what the person stealing merchandise will do. If they have a weapon, are they going to assault you. So they’re just generally like, look, do not engage them, do not get near enough them or interfere with what they’re doing. Let them leave. And then some of the big brands have in house security, yeah, security that they’ll investigate and see if they’ll do. So that’s kind of one part of this. The part that maybe has people more like kind of having a difficult time understanding is they don’t call the police during and in some cases even afterwards, that they’re just going to write it off as lost merchandise. And the purpose behind that in the cases where a corporation does have that policy is there has been some internal cost benefit analysis that they think that there is a greater risk to the corporation of calling the police and potentially being accused of profiling than just writing off the loss of the merchandise. And so they’re like, we’re not going to call the police about this at all. Because there could be instances, of course, with corporate policies, it’s a blanket across the country, so there certainly could be instances where it clearly wouldn’t be necessarily that. But they’re just worried that there could be instances where some employee makes what I call it levels an accusation against somebody to the police even after the fact. And that person maybe invariably either wasn’t involved or they level an accusation against a corporation that you’re only accusing me because you’re profiling me for certain reasons. And so they said, we’re not going to call the police. So unfortunately, why that affects us is we have stores here that are part of national and international corporations, and some have this policy. And the Forum certainly has stores that are struggling with the nationwide, and I stress the nationwide phenomenon because some of the discussion around here is like, oh, crime has decided to focus on the Forum or focus on Peachtree Corners. And that is not the case. It’s unfortunate we have any, but we are no different than other locations that are struggling with the fact that certain criminal elements, juveniles, just certain people who are willing to break the law, know that they can get away with it to a certain degree on certain stores that have this policy. And in the case of lululemon, there was an instance where, having this policy in place, there were individuals who, it appears, in the view of lululemon’s leadership, did not remove themselves from the case of this theft terminated, and then the termination resulted in the spouse of one of the individuals posting a long kind of blog about it. And it started with two employees were fired because they called the police, which Lululemons come back and said that wasn’t the case. They were fired because of other policies, which appears to be they did not remove themselves from the immediate area of these people. But it got picked up nationally because people were like, wait a second, you got fired because you called the police and then it kind of got what? But anyway, as this story took off, it starts always with there was an incident in Peachtree Tree Corners, Georgia, at Lululemon, and then it goes into the corporate policy and how this has contributed to some of the increase in criminal activity we see, at least when it comes to the shoplifting and theft. So that’s the incident we could certainly talk about the specific case here, but that’s why we were.

Rico Figliolini 0:08:13

So the ladies that followed them out, if the reports are accurate right. The posting, I’m sure listen, there’s three sides to the story, so accuracy can be depending on where it goes. I’ve read enough articles on this because this has appeared in sites like the New York Post, UK Mail, I mean, it’s been internationally, even reported to a degree because of Lululemon’s brand right. If they hadn’t followed them out, which they shouldn’t have, I guess I can appreciate and understand the liabilities of a business where they want to make sure their employees are safe, but also it’s a cost factor too, right? It’s not good to have your employees go out because lawsuits can arise from some of these things for sure, because lawsuits are like we’re a society where we like to sue everyone.

Brian Johnson 0:09:03

We’re litigious, no doubt about that.

Rico Figliolini 0:09:07

But if they didn’t follow them out, they didn’t see the car marking or the car the make and model and all that, these guys would never have been arrested in Peachtree City where they went, I guess it was the next day to do the same thing at Another Lululemon and they were arrested. And now they’re in jail. Or at least they were in jail, because the aggregate amount of what they stole was a felony range versus a misdemeanor range, if the reporting is accurate.

Brian Johnson 0:09:33

Right, because they wouldn’t my understanding as well, I don’t know, at some point they may have been caught, but the make and model of the vehicle was a result of the theft at the forum location of Lululemon. And that did play into the very next day, the same group of four went down to Peachtree City, south of Atlanta and did the same thing. And the police, having the make and model, knew what to look for when they tried to leave. The, I guess the was almost like a shopping mall. And so there are multiple exits and they were able to keep the from leaving. And they had already changed their license plate, so that would not have helped if we had picked up here. Now, it’s also important to note a couple of other things. One is there are a number of other corporate policies that have affected this kind of activity both at the Forum and elsewhere. I mean, you know, have talked to North American Properties, who owns the Forum, and Avalon. Avalon has stores that the same thing is happening. Avenues at East Cobb, other locations they have when there are others. My understanding is Victoria’s Secret, who has a similar policy, has more the on a somewhat unfortunate regular basis than even Lululemon. Unbelievable. They’re not the only ones. Again, we got caught with individuals who understand we’re kind of tired of having to see this. And it was brazen, if you watch the video, brazen about this. But nationally, it’s on the increase. In fact, there are some cities, usually big cities, who won’t even prosecute misdemeanors at all. And so those who do this know that if you keep the value of the merchandise that you’re shoplifting or stealing below a certain threshold, then that’s right, essentially no consequences to your action. And these stores are just writing it off. I don’t think most of what we’ve read, most of the comments that we’ve received are not incredulous. Reaction has not been about, well, they got fired, or the belief that they got fired for not removing themselves from the immediate location of all these people doing it. A lot of people believe, oh, they got fired for calling the police.

Rico Figliolini 0:12:09

Right. Because that was part of that commentary. But I mean, even still, I guess that I think what this probably shows or what’s necessary maybe at some point, is that the Forum, unlike Town Center, has no cameras there. And that may be something that the maybe have to look into.

Brian Johnson 0:12:31

Well, there’s two things going on at the Forum. That the city. We’ve scheduled some meetings with some of the entities that can do some things to help. But right now, on the exterior roads that you drive on to get to these stores at the Forum, the main boulevard, there are not specific exterior cameras on the parking spots and the roadway. And so that’s going to be discussed. The other issue that is going to be harder is Gwynette PD. When they were finally called after this incident, they had, I can’t remember it was either four or five officers that got there within two minutes, but it was all done already. The group had left, and Gwynette PD has implored these locations. Call us. We can’t do anything if you don’t call us. But the corporate policy of, hey, we don’t call the police because we would rather write it off than get accused of profiling, which usually tends to be the racial profiling. There’s other types. But the risk some corporations feel that that is greater than calling the police is such that when that police department is very frustrated as well, because they’re like, this is happening right under our nose, and we are here. We had officers in the area could have done sending you called. I don’t know how to fix that per se, but we certainly can do some things, and we’ll do some things to maybe increase our ability to ultimately solve and prosecute some of this criminality. It’s important to note that our camera system, city’s camera system, both video and flock hide in with Fusis is unequivocally. The reason why police were able to identify and ultimately apprehend the last two homicide instances we had here, which fortunate, but at least we had the ability to do that. So we know it works, want to have as much of it as we can, so we’ll do our part. But unfortunately, there’s going to be still a struggle with corporate policy on an individual store basis on what they do with what’s happening inside.

Rico Figliolini 0:15:03

Yeah, and I know it’s frustrating, apparently for the Forum also because they’ve had discussions with the businesses, and it’s out of their control as far as that goes.

Brian Johnson 0:15:12

And they’ve also employed. I’m glad you brought that. It’s not just Gwinnett PD, it’s the landlord. North American Properties has been like, please, this hurts us all when this happens because some of the local community social media comments, like on next door, there’s people who are like, why isn’t the forum doing more? Or you should reach out to the city. The city shouldn’t let this happen. We would love to be able to get these stores to do something about it, and then these employees feel handcuffed, too. Hopefully, if we get enough of this solved or the word gets out that you really are under surveillance when you’re out on the public right of public spaces, that maybe the criminal element won’t come here, but it is not exclusive to us. Nobody wants it to happen. And look, as frustrating as these policies are, the other thing we got to be careful of is I read a lot of I’m never shopping at Lululemon again, and I get the stance, but we’re not careful. We are going to end up by taking a stance there, driving Lululemon away from this particular location, and now we’ve got another empty storefront.

Rico Figliolini 0:16:34

They’re understood. I mean, these types of things actually have driven companies to actually close. Walmart has closed in places. Other stores have closed in neighborhoods where these things are happening.

Brian Johnson 0:16:48

I don’t think it made at their corporate headquarters. And again, there’s greater forces at play and other social considerations that they put into it. Right or wrong, whether you agree or not, it’s just what we’d hate to see is the end of the day, this location is closed because it’s not getting enough sales. And again, now you got an empty storefront.

Rico Figliolini 0:17:12

I don’t think that certainly would be the case. So hopefully things will be a little different. All right. There’s other things happening in the city. There’s certainly governments and companies that are flocking to the city of Peachtree Corners for a lot of different reasons. Curiosity Lab is one of the to be able to do like that race that you all put together between the city and Curiosity Lab with the Criterion Road race that was just phenomenal. Be able to do that. Over the past year or so, the French American Business Chamber relocated here. Several companies like Valmat, which is I think a Danish company, relocated into the three corners.

Brian Johnson 0:17:54

There are companies that partnership agreement with Audi.

Rico Figliolini 0:17:58

Audi, that’s right.

Brian Johnson 0:17:59

No idea. That may materialize into something more. I mean, that’s the purpose of all this is Curiosity Lab is merely a magnet to get companies here. Our hope is once Curiosity Lab gets them to the area and they’re using Curiosity Lab or they’re collaborating or doing whatever is we talk to them and convince them, hey, look at this community as a whole. This is a great place for maybe you to expand your business or do certain things. I just got done meeting with the supply chain leadership at Intuitive Surgical at their headquarters in Sunnyvale and purpose of it was to get the list of all of their tier one and tier two parts suppliers that they purchased parts from to assemble the DA Vinci robotic assistance. And the purpose of us getting that is we’re going to go to then those part suppliers and say, hey, wouldn’t it be great for you to have a location really close to one of your biggest customers? Wouldn’t it be great? And if so, let’s talk about how much square footage you need and what can the city do to so that’s how we’re using this. And then of course we know that Curiosity Lab was ultimately a decisive point in Intuitive decision to come here. So the means to an end, but yeah, I mean, continues to play out.

Rico Figliolini 0:19:30

I’m glad you brought that up about the list of suppliers and stuff because I don’t think people understand what a city does as far as economic impact and bringing businesses here and what’s involved. It really is a salesmanship type of thing and to be able to show that right, I mean, you’re traveling in fact, weren’t you all in Israel recently and now there’s an Israeli government related business organization that’s going to be working out of Peachtree Corners.

Brian Johnson 0:19:58

Tell us CTO of the city. The person who really runs Curiosity Lab day to day. He went to Israel, spoke at it by invitation, spoke at a conference, but he was able to close a partnership agreement that we had kind of laid the groundwork for last year when I was there. And that’s Israeli governmental agency called the Israeli Innovation Authority. And their job is to foster incubate and help develop Israeli startup companies and their expansion into the international market. And we’ve worked out a partnership agreement in which they’re going to vet this big pool of startups within the nation of Israel. Vet them down to ones that they think are ready to come to the US. Meaning their product they think is one that’ll work. They’re financially healthy enough that they can scale somewhere else and then they’re going to push them to the US through Curiosity Lab. We’re going to offer some assistance when they land here. Somewhat similar to what the French American Chamber does for French companies is they get here and then they’re kind of like, all right, I’m in the US. Talk to me about what it would take for us to hire people here. Is there certain paperwork we got to do? We want to be close to certain things. Where’s the good market to do that? Sometimes we keep the here, sometimes the leave and go elsewhere in metro Atlanta, elsewhere in Georgia, elsewhere in the US. But at least we had a shot at saying maybe we can meet your need. Maybe you stay here within our corporate limits and you don’t leave on your expansion. But we’ve executed an official partnership agreement to have that pipeline get created between the Israeli government and Israeli startups coming to the US. So it’s great opportunity for us to maybe land some companies that have product and maybe they want to expand and stay right here inside our it’s amazing.

Rico Figliolini 0:22:20

Israel, the startup nation. I think there was a book about that about how they have more startups per capita than any other nation and they’re small. Right. Unbelievable. So things are still moving along with technology obviously here. But we’re also looking at the city as a whole being community driven. Right? I mean there’s stuff going on. Like just recently one of my friends texted me from it was Saturday night, it was a concert night. I think it was the Michael Jackson tribute. Tribute, right. He said there were more people there than he’s ever seen since the park opened, since Town Center opened. Now I don’t know what the numbers could be.

Brian Johnson 0:23:04

We probably exceeded 5000 at the Town Green. I think that Queen concert that we had what, two years like the summer before COVID probably bigger, but yeah, we exceeded 5000 out in the Town Green. I mean it was well attended. It was a gorgeous day. In fact, unfortunately actually the end people were needing to leave because they didn’t dress properly because it got a little bit chilly.

Rico Figliolini 0:23:28

When the crazy weather it goes from 42 to like 79 and just like unbelievable. Like Northern California almost the must be that cooling effect. I forget which one it is but the council series is going great. A lot of stuff going on there. We’re going to have the Peachtree Corners Festival again at Town Center. I think that’s in September. But when all that’s done, I think part of what the city wants to do at this point is because the Green, the inner circle of that oval, has had so much traffic and bumpy areas in it and stuff. The city is going to take that down by 2ft.

Brian Johnson 0:24:09

Yeah. So look, we created the Town Green specifically to be a gathering spot, a community amenity where people want to go to. And we’ve done what cities will typically do to foster that. We have a concert series that brings people there, provides entertainment and opportunities for us in the community to see each other, to socialize. The playground is a great amenity out there, the fitness trail, so on and so forth. But the downside to that comes with things like we got to spend more money cleaning it up because there’s more people. Our custodial work out there has increased exponentially. The off duty police protection has increased. Trying to get kids off the playgrounds late at night when it’s closing at eleven. Those are good problems to have because a lot of people want to go out there. But one of the things that unfortunately we’re going to have to do to make sure that it looks the best is we’ve got a big two acre oval and that has a ring of sidewalk around it and inside it, it’s got all this grass. Well, the original soil that the sod was planted on top of is your typical Georgia clay. What’s happening is when it gets wet and you have a lot of weight on it, like whether it was two years ago, the festival was rained. The first year out there it rained, it was kind of a mess. We’ve had some concerts where it’s wet, you get on it and when the clay gets wet it gets squishy and so it squishes down and it gets uneven. And then when it dries it gets hard, but it then hardens with all the waves and undulation of all the weight. So one thing you’ve got is it started to get lumpy. And the other thing is clay doesn’t necessarily always facilitate grass growing. So we known that there was a risk that we had to do with this. But anyway, at the day after the last concert we got a project. We’re going to come in and we’re going to remove the sod and about 2ft of all the soil and the clay. Then we’re going to put in a drainage bed for it to drain the water better. We’re going to put in good soil, and then we’re going to attempt because we prefer grass over artificial, we’re going to attempt to put Sod back and go one more year, next year, and see if we can’t if there’s enough gaps between when you have large groups of people on it that the grass will grow well, and hopefully that’s the case. If not, we’ll ultimately go to turf. But either way we’ve got to improve the drainage. So that will happen right after the last concert. We’re also the original locations of the three. First call it playground equipment where you have two climbing things and you have that hill with the slide, right. That area is going to become a taut area, meaning playground equipment specifically for kids that are like four years and under so much lower, easier, safer type of playground stuff. So that’ll be kind of the todd area. Then if you want to consider the area where the Qantas and all the big stuff is kind of the intermediate, then if you feeling froggy you can go over to the fitness trail and some things there. Now we’re going to have to make some improvements to the fitness trail as well. For us to insure it, we’re going to have to put a fence around that area and there’s going to have to be some signage out there restricting it to people of a certain age or ability. Okay.

Rico Figliolini 0:28:13

Isn’t there insurance on there already?

Brian Johnson 0:28:16

There is, but what’s happening is the insurance company saying, look, you just opened up all this new playground equipment that is attracting a lot more people. Well, those kids especially, there’s a lot of unsupervised kids there. They then turn around and right there is this other stuff and they want to go and do it and they’re not either capable or old enough or under supervision. And so we’re going to have to it’ll stay there. We’ll make it look it’ll still be look unique. We’re kind of coming up with ideas on way to do that, but that’s coming. And then redoing the sod and the tot lot will start the day after the last compter. So we don’t interfere with any of that. It’ll be the fall but here maybe within a month we’re going to start construction of the dog park.

Rico Figliolini 0:29:11

Now where is that going to be in relation to stuff?

Brian Johnson 0:29:14

So if you’re standing on the town green staring at the stage, it’ll be to the left of Cinebistro in the woods. It’ll be almost alongside of Cinnabestro as you’re staring or if you want to consider it, the back of Cinnabestro if you’re going in bistro’s front door but.

Rico Figliolini 0:29:34

There’s a walkway that goes that winds out.

Brian Johnson 0:29:38

It’ll be where the dog park a little bit farther back. Probably the best way to get to the dog park is going to be to drive your car to the side surface parking lot for cinema. Okay, that’ll be the best way to enter it. And so we’re going to have a dog park, a pretty big dog park. Some of it will have two areas, one for bigger dogs, one for smaller ones. And then within each of those areas there’ll be some artificial turf and some natural area with certain little things for the dog and then seating area that are covered for the dog owners. And then we’re exploring putting in some sort of a call it a permanent stand, if you will. But it may be almost like operate like a bar or a beverage area where once you go inside the fenced area of the dog park you could go up to this area and get a drink.

Rico Figliolini 0:30:34

Okay, that sounds cool. All right. That’s probably one of the local businesses already. Or maybe another business would be there.

Brian Johnson 0:30:42

If we did it. We probably bid it out and see who wants to run it.

Rico Figliolini 0:30:47

Sure.

Brian Johnson 0:30:49

We’re certainly not going to, I’m not going to be pouring mixing drinks or anything. Yeah, there’s some good around here. Buckhead has a dog park that’s wildly successful, and they have a little mini bar that operates certain hours so that the dog owners go there and while they’re watching their dog and socializing, they can get a drink. This is why we created it. It’s a gathering space and hopefully some of this activity bleeds over into the forum. The forum started their phase one of parking spots and putting in more outdoor seating and outdoor amenity space. So they’re moving forward with their stuff. So a lot going on in that area because that’s our downtown and we want to make sure we support it.

Rico Figliolini 0:31:41

Definitely a lot of activity and even more stuff that’s going to be coming along that we’ll be talking about in further podcasts once the feasibility study has been finished with the Pickleball study and a bunch of other things also that’s happening, like the comprehensive plan because that comes to a head at some point, actually. When does the final report get put out?

Brian Johnson 0:32:05

August or September 1 of the two.

Rico Figliolini 0:32:08

So we’ll be covering that as well and talking about that on these podcasts. So we’ve come to the end of our time, I think, Brian, and don’t want to monopolize all your time.

Brian Johnson 0:32:18

Thank you.

Rico Figliolini 0:32:19

I do appreciate you being out with us and talking to us about these things. It’s good to get clarity and thank you for your input in the city’s point of view on Lululemon and the things going on as well as the stuff coming up. I mean, all exciting, all exciting things. So check out, our listeners here, check out LivinginPeachtreeCorners.com for a little bit more on what’s going on in the city. And our latest issue is out. It’s actually at locations like Ingles and Dunkin Donuts. It’s in a bunch of other places. It’s going to hit the mailbox in a few days, so check it out. There’s a lot of stuff on it. And Summer reading recommendations is the cover story, so see what your neighbors are recommending as far as what’s a good read this summer. Check that out. Hang in there with me as I close out. Thank you again for our lead sponsor, EV Remodeling, for being a sponsor of this and for Clear Wave Fiber for being joining us as a new sponsor and a great supporter for this coming year. But thank you all. Talk to you later.

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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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