David R. Sweat, Chief Judge of the Superior Courts of the Western Judicial Circuit of the State of Georgia, will retire from active service effective July 31, 2017. Governor Nathan Deal will appoint an individual to serve for the remainder of the term, which expires on December 31, 2018.
Judge Sweat was elected in 2002 to the open seat on the Superior Court bench in Athens-Clarke County and Oconee County that was created when the late Judge Joseph J. Gaines retired. Before taking the bench, Judge Sweat practiced law in Athens for 23 years. Judge Sweat won re-election three times.
In his first campaign for the Superior Court office, Judge Sweat noted that the work of the courts has effects far beyond the courthouse steps.
“During my 14-plus years in office, I have worked to create court programs and processes that will improve the lives of people in our community,” Judge Sweat stated in announcing his retirement. “I am very proud of what our courts have accomplished while I have been in office.”
In 2008, Judge Sweat created a Treatment and Accountability Court, over which he has presided in addition to his regular Superior Court case docket. The Treatment and Accountability Court ensures that offenders with serious mental illness, often with co-occurring substance abuse disorders, take responsibility for their criminal conduct. Participants must comply with a comprehensive long-term plan of treatment while they work daily to maintain sobriety and to understand and improve their mental health. The close supervision of Treatment and Accountability Court has created opportunities for 275 individuals to break a routine of regular jail stays and use effective tools that promote stable and crime-free lives.
On January 1, 2013, Judge Sweat assumed the role of Chief Judge of the Western Judicial Circuit. Under his leadership, the courts have made substantial advances in establishing productive alternatives to incarceration, strengthening community supervision of offenders, and using technology to improve the court process for all users. In 2014, Judge Sweat initiated the process to add a fourth Superior Court judgeship for the Circuit in order to relieve the pressure brought on by a growing caseload of serious felonies and other cases. He led the effort to win approval from the Judicial Council of Georgia and the local legislative delegation. In 2015, the Georgia Legislature passed the legislation creating the fourth judgeship.
During his tenure, Judge Sweat has encouraged and supported the work of other judges to establish or expand four other accountability courts in the Western Circuit, including Felony Drug Court, Veterans Court, DUI/Drug Court, and Family Treatment Court. In 2016, he convened a Justice and Mental Health Collaboration made up of local criminal justice leaders, medical care providers, and mental health treatment providers. That collaboration has received grant funds to begin coordinating services to divert individuals in mental health or substance abuse crisis to appropriate treatment rather than incarceration. He worked with other judges to create the Accountability Courts Foundation of Athens-Clarke County, a designated fund of the Athens Area Community Foundation.
Judge Sweat spearheaded a court technology proposal for Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) funding and chaired the user group charged with using funds to select and implement new case management systems across multiple courts, new courtroom information display and video conferencing systems, and a judicial data exchange to allow for the real-time sharing of criminal justice information drawn from many agency sources.
Judge Sweat also worked with court administrators and other judges to develop a proposal for SPLOST funding to construct a diversion/work release center. SPLOST provided funds for the construction and Athens-Clarke County opened the Diversion Center in May 2012. Today, the center houses 54 individuals who might otherwise be in jail or prison.
As Chief Judge, Judge Sweat chaired the Law Library Board that renovated the Athens-Clarke County Courthouse Law Library and developed the Law Library's Self Help Center, a resource where self-represented litigants can turn for assistance, information, and court filing materials.
At the state level, Judge Sweat served on the Council of Superior Court Judges' Uniform Rules and Accountability Courts Committees. In 2013, he became chair of the Uniform Rules Committee. As chair of the committee, Judge Sweat led the development of procedural rules and forms for the Superior Courts across the state. In 2015, Governor Nathan Deal appointed Judge Sweat to the Georgia Commission on Family Violence.
"I give much of the credit for the accomplishments during my tenure to the work and support of my court staff," said Chief Judge Sweat. "Donna Stevens has served as my senior staff attorney, Sophia Smith has served as my judicial assistant, and Jim Meyer and Charlene Vinson Satterfield have served as my court reporters. And I recognize the hard work of my courtroom bailiffs in both counties, who always kept court proceedings running smoothly. I also greatly appreciate the many years of support and patience from my wife, former Athens-Clarke County Municipal Court Judge Kay Giese."
Judge Sweat intends to take senior judge status in the Superior Courts of the State of Georgia, where he will continue to assist in the Western Circuit and other circuits around the state. He also will conduct private mediations, judicial settlement conferences, and arbitrations. He plans to enjoy traveling with his wife and hopes to see more of family and friends.
For more information, contact Athens-Clarke County Court Administrator Laura Welch at 706-613-3161 or email@example.com.