Only one county in Georgia has a family court. That’s Fulton County. There are huge differences between Fulton County’s Family Court and every other Court in the State of Georgia. Tonight’s post is about one of those differences and how not to get hurt yourself by using it.
In Fulton, three judges sit on the Family Court bench, drawn from the 15 or so general Superior Court judges. They hear every single family law case in Fulton County. They manage this massive case load by having Judicial Officers serve as judges during Status Conferences. In the Status Conferences, these Judicial Officers are imbued with the same authority as the Superior Court judges themselves.
There is one problem with this structure. The Judicial Officers are not elected. Under Georgia law, a judge must be elected. Fulton County resolves this problem through Rule 1004. This essentially provides that the Judicial Officers can rule just like Superior Court judges, unless one of the parties objects. This is known as a 1004 Objection. When a 1004 Objection is filed, a Judicial Officer cannot make a decision in a case. They become an administrator, merely moving the case along.
Strategically, filing a 1004 Objection is tricky business. You are telling the Juciial Officer that you don’t trust him. Also, you are demanding that the Superior Court Judge assigned to your case hear your issue. You are commanding her attention. Seldom a good idea to command a Superior Court Judge.
I recently had this issue play out in a Status Conference. Opposing Counsel and I were arguing about summer visitation. Opposing Party, dad, wanted the entire summer. Dad already had a month, mom had recently agreed to an additional week, but he wanted it all. I was arguing that since my client, mom, had moved away, maybe one week more this summer would be acceptable. The Judicial Officer was weighing the options.
That was when Opposing Counsel slid a 1004 Objection across the table to me.
“Judge,” me talking, “Opposing Counsel has filed a 1004 Objection.”
“That removes my ability to order anything.”
“My client would waive that objection if you agree that he should have the entire summer,” Opposing Counsel sneered.
Now, the Judicial Officer realized that without the objection he could grant this man another week or more. With the objection he was powerless to extend any additional time to this fellow at all. Opposing Counsel stuck to her guns. “My client will waive the Objection if you agree with him. Otherwise, he stands by his objection.”
The Judicial Officer, always a wise man, paused for a moment then said, “I think I will respect your client’s 1004 Objection.”
Consequently, the man got squat. Not one more day. The child is going home.
For Opposing Counsel, what kind of bone headed move was that? Without a shred of thought, Opposing Counsel cost her client a minimum of an additional week of summer he could have spent with his child. He could have perhaps gotten more. Her foolishness and shortsightedness worked to her client’s disadvantage. I thought her error was clear. However, it seemed to be quite beyond her capacity.
I almost felt sorry for the guy. For while Opposing Counsel is known around the courthouse for being somewhat daft (all hat, no cattle) her antics demonstrated to the Court that her client was far more interested in his power than his progeny. Sad.
So the 1004 Objection is there to satisfy the requirements of Georgia law. But it must be very sparingly and quite precisely used less you be hoisted on your own petard. Client 1, Opposing Party 0. (Thanks Opposing Counsel.)