Fulton Chief Judge Ural Glanville: Teamwork needed to solve jail problems

‘Georgia’s Gitmo’ is an exclusive, in-depth examination of the Fulton County Jail.
Georgia's Gitmo: Fulton County Chief Superior Court Judge Ural Glanville
Published: Oct. 30, 2023 at 2:55 PM EDT|Updated: Nov. 1, 2023 at 4:26 PM EDT
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ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - Ask the head of Fulton County’s commission who’s to blame for overcrowding at the jail, Chairman Robb Pitts points to superior court judges and the voters who keep them in office.

“Some work. Some do not. Some come to work at 10:00 in the morning. Go to lunch at 12., play golf. We monitor this,” said Pitts. ”“The voters are at fault in all of this, from my perspective, for electing and reelecting the same people.”

Fulton County Chief Superior Court Judge Ural Glanville disagrees with Pitts, and said he and his bench colleagues are working hard to move cases along, but are at the mercy of prosecutors and defense attorneys’ ability to get their cases ready.

“This particular issue of overcrowding in the jail is a collaborative effort,” said Glanville.

FULL STORY | How and why the Fulton County Jail has become Georgia’s Gitmo

For example, Fulton County does not have enough court-appointed attorneys. These are the lawyers who represent the majority of people in jail who cannot afford to pay for one.

“If you don’t have public defenders, it affects (the ability of the criminally accused) to have adequate representation,” Glanville, who was elected to the bench in 2005 and has been chief for about a year, said.

For more than a year, Atlanta News First Investigates has extensively investigated the shortages in court-appointed attorneys across Georgia and its impact on the justice system. In August 2022, Fulton County records showed at least 113 people indicted for crimes did not have a court-appointed attorney; 29 of them had been behind bars longer than a year.

Glanville said the length of jury trials also impacts the delays.

While 90 to 95 percent of cases will be resolved in a plea agreement between the district attorney and the defense attorney, the rest involve people who want a jury to determine their fate. Glanville said most judges only have the capacity to try four to six cases a month, especially if homicide cases are on their calendar. Each homicide trial can take up two weeks of a judge’s time, which includes seating a jury, cross-examining multiple witnesses and jury deliberations.

Glanville said cases are also often delayed by GBI’s overburdened crime lab, which takes months to test drugs and firearm ballistics, often needed before the district attorney will pursue charges or drop a case.

“If I’m a defendant and that science will exonerate me or or at least give me a better understanding of where I stand with that case, there’s nothing I can do until I get that data point,” Glanville said.

Last December, Glanville signed an order suspending defendants’ ability to request speedy trials, citing the pandemic. While the order ended in July, he admits it potentially impacted thousands of people eager to move their cases forward.

To address the backlog, Glanville said his colleagues created a temporary program to fund more court-appointed attorneys. They’re also holding court inside the jail on Saturdays.

The ability to get inmates mentally competent to stand trial creates delays, too. Glanville said about 40 percent of the jail population suffers from undiagnosed mental health challenges. He’s now considering creating a competency court, where one judge handles the cases to make sure inmates receive the treatment, medication and therapy required to get them ready for court.

“We have decided to that this would be an important thing for us to kind of keep track … to maintain these kind of cases and give them the attention they deserve,” Glanville said.

To do that all that, he said the county needs more judges.

With the appropriate resources, Glanville believes the county will be in a better position a year from now to reduce the backlog and jail overcrowding. “We are constitutionally mandated to give you time and opportunity to have your case heard either before a judge or jury,” Glanville said. “And that’s what we’re going to continue to do.”

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