By statute approved on January 19, 1872, the Georgia General Assembly created in certain counties, including Dougherty County, a County Court. In addition to having jurisdiction over misdemeanor criminal cases, original civil jurisdiction was limited to cases in which the principal sum demanded did not exceed $100.00. Later that year by special legislation, the civil jurisdiction for Dougherty County Court was increased to $3,000.00 for tort cases and to $300.00 for other civil cases for which exclusive jurisdiction did not rest with Superior Court.
The first County Judge for Dougherty County was David H. Pope (1840-1904), who took office in 1872. Judge Pope resigned to go to Texas but ended up returning to Albany the same year. From 1873-1876, the County Judge was L.P.D. Warren (1828-1882), who in 1876 became a Superior Court Judge. From 1876-1897, W.T. “Suggs” Jones (1851-1898) served as County Judge until he was elected to the Georgia Legislature in 1898. He died while serving in session in Atlanta.
By statutes approved December 16, 1897, the County Court of Dougherty County was abolished and the City Court of Albany was established. In addition to having criminal jurisdiction over all offenses below the grade of felony, the City Court was granted civil jurisdiction concurrently with the Superior Court except for those cases in which the Superior Court had exclusive jurisdiction wherein the amount claimed was “as much as fifty dollars.”
The first judge of the City Court of Albany was C.B. Wooten who served from 1898-1900. He was succeeded by Richard Hobbs (1826-1904), who was born in County Cork, Ireland, and who served from 1900-1904. Judge Hobbs was succeeded by Daniel F. Crosland who served from 1904-1912. Judge Crosland was succeeded by Clayton Jones (1882-1973) who served from 1912-1973, a span of 61 years. Judge Jones’ annual salary was set at $2,700.00 in 1915. His salary at the end of his term in 1973 had been increased over the years to $18,000.00 annually.
By statute approved on March 28, 1974, the City Court of Albany was designated as the State Court of Dougherty County. The new law granted the State Court concurrent jurisdiction with the Superior Court of Dougherty County of all misdemeanor criminal offenses committed within Dougherty County and established six person juries for such trials. By special legislation approved March 24, 1976, civil jurisdiction was increased in civil cases in which the amount demanded did not exceed $5,000.00, and the State Court Judge was authorized to appoint practicing attorneys as Associate State Court Judges. That same year, special legislation was approved which established the Small Claims Court of Dougherty County (the forerunner to our current Magistrate Court) and authorized the State Court Judge to appoint one of the Associate State Court Judges as the Judge of Small Claims Court. By statute approved on January 25, 1983, jurisdiction for civil cases in State Court was increased to $10,000.00. In 1983, the Georgia Constitution was amended and the state-wide uniform court system was established. Under current law, Dougherty County now has one full-time State Court Judge and one full time Chief Magistrate Court Judge and two full time Magistrate Court Judges, who are appointed by the State Court Judge and whose terms of office coincide with the term of office for the State Court Judge.
The first State Court Judge of Dougherty County was the Hon. Rosser Adams Malone (1906- 2002), who served from 1973-1992. Judge Malone appointed several Associate State Court Judges and/or Magistrates during his term in office, some of whom included William T. Jones, Bubba Stewart, Joe Champion, John Tracy, Lee Bishop, Howard Stiller, Addie Durden, Richard Hodge (later appointed U.S. District Court Magistrate), Hon. Willie Lockette (now Chief Judge of Dougherty Superior Court), Hon. Baxter Howell, (now Chief Judge of Dougherty Magistrate Court) and Hon. Herb Phipps (retired Judge of Dougherty Juvenile Court, Dougherty Superior Court and the Georgia Court of Appeals),
Judge Malone was succeeded by the Hon. John Frank Salter, who served from 1993 until he decided not to run for re-election and resigned effective September 1, 2012. Upon his resignation, he was appointed as a full-time Magistrate Judge of the Magistrate Court of Dougherty County.
Judge Salter was succeeded by the Hon. Victoria Darrisaw, Dougherty State Court’s first female and first African-American elected State Court Judge, who served from September 1, 2012 until August 8, 2018, when she was sworn in as a Dougherty Circuit Superior Court Judge to replace the Hon. Stephen Goss, who earlier in 2018 was elevated to the Georgia Court of Appeals.
Judge Darrisaw was succeeded by the Hon. John M. Stephenson who was sworn in by Governor Nathan Deal on November 7, 2018.
Judges of Dougherty State Court and its Predecessor Courts
Many thanks to Judge John F. Salter for his extensive research used in preparing this history.