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5 questions with Reggie Forrester
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Reggie Forrester is the court administrator for the Northeastern Judicial Circuit. - photo by Tom Reed

About Reggie Forrester

Age: 71

Hometown: Oakwood

Length of time in Northeast Georgia: All my life

Education: Associate’s degree in Criminal Justice, Gainesville College; bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, North Georgia College; Certified Public Manager, University of Georgia, Carl Vinson Institute of Government

Occupation: Court administrator, Northeastern Judicial Circuit

Most interesting job: My current position

Family information: Married to wife Vivian Freeman Forrester. We have a blended family of four daughters and nine grandchildren.

Reggie Forrester has worn many hats in local government and the legal system.

He has served as court administrator for the Northeastern Judicial Circuit since 2006. Prior to that, he was Hall County administrator from 1995-1999, public safety director from 1985-1995, district court administrator from 1982-1985, correctional institute warden from 1979-1982 and investigator for the District Attorney’s Office from 1976-1977.

Today, we discuss his current position and how he balances the different duties and skills it requires.

1. What’s your secret for maintaining strong professional relationships with those departments and agencies outside of the courts — such as county administration, prosecutors, the sheriff’s office, probation, etc. — that you must deal with?

The secret for maintaining strong professional relationships is filled with the ingredients of trust, respect, communication, and understanding.

We pursue a strong professional relationship with every elected and appointed official in the courthouse. It is absolutely necessary to maintain a position of trust because every part of the criminal justice system fits together like a glove to produce a smooth and productive day.

Each agency’s participation is necessary and critical to the whole of the judicial process. To be outstanding in our operations, we must regularly meet to discuss, seek consensus and make changes to improve and enhance our operations.

Although the judiciary is the third branch of government, we maintain a strong interactive and professional relationship with county administration and county commissioners. Interaction prepares a solid foundation for expressing our needs and funding requests. Understanding between two branches of government allows both to explore avenues of mutual interest and concern.

2. How has technology changed how the courts work?

Just more than 20 years ago in 1991, Hall County began to leave the age of pen and paper when the Comprehensive Justice Information System came into being. Today, every criminal justice record in Hall County is contained in the database and is used by every criminal justice agency within the county as well as the municipalities.

The information is available to users on a 24-hour-per-day basis. Current computer programming provides authorized users the ability to retrieve information and produce reports based on the information needed at the time of request.

In addition to the database of information, we currently have computer programming that electronically selects our jurors and grand jurors for court service. All of our criminal cases in both Hall and Dawson counties are assigned to the judges by computer on a random basis. We also have electronic sentencing in Hall and Dawson counties for Superior Court. We are currently preparing to begin electronic sentencing for the State Court of Hall County.

Technology also gives us the ability to have video conferencing for first appearances for those who have been arrested and are incarcerated, evidence presentation systems in each courtroom for use by attorneys while in court and Wi-Fi for use by the attorneys and members of the public.

3. As part of your job, you prepare and manage the budgets for seven divisions of the court system. What was the biggest challenge you faced during the tough budget years the county has faced recently?

The challenges we have faced during the recent tough budget years have been many; however, the greatest challenge faced was the process of finding a new balance or base line that would function within the parameters of reduced funding and at the same time, allow us to continue to meet our constitutional mandate to administer fair, efficient and effective justice. The balance issue required many, many hours and days of self-examination and analysis of our operations and systems to determine where we might find ourselves in this very different and difficult time of financial crisis.

Our first decision was that we would carry ourselves in a manner that would be positive and supportive of the plan developed for all of Hall County government to emerge from the crisis situation. We participated in furlough days, froze vacant positions and reduced operating expenses while maintaining our services. During this time we made several changes that have realized substantial savings such as a change regarding the reporting of jurors which resulted in a savings of just under $100,000 the first year.

4. What has been the most rewarding part of your work in court administration?

The most rewarding part of my work in court administration has been the positive inward change of my perception and compassion toward individuals who have been driven to criminal activity as a result of either drug or alcohol addiction. Having been birthed into the criminal justice system in the early 1970s, the attitude at the time seemed to dictate that all crimes should be punished by “lock them up and throw the key away” without any regard for classification or separation of those who might have a criminal mind versus those who are driven to crime as a result of an addiction.

Drugs always alter reasoning and thinking. In retrospect, my own career in the criminal justice system followed the hard-boiled attitude toward crime and the criminal until one day in early January 2006, when I reported to the courthouse to become the court administrator for the Northeastern Judicial Circuit.

As court administrator, I immediately became a part of the Hall County Drug Court and Mental Health Court on the administrative side of funding and planning. I made an effort to attend each and every graduation for those who completed the programs. The success stories and testimonies of the graduates about how their lives had been changed and how they had been reunited with their families and friends began to tug at my heart, and I began to see the devastation of addiction with much clearer vision.

Within a short time after assuming the position of court administrator, I attended a drug court graduation where there was a young mother graduating who had been devastated by drug addiction. She had lost everything she had, including custody of her two children and the remainder of her extended family. She started drug court at the bottom of the world and on that graduation day, she had survived a two-year program to rid herself of her addiction, she had a job and was earning a living, she had re-established the love of her extended family and most importantly, she had regained custody of her two children.

That was the day that I was forever changed as I realized that with help and encouragement, being driven to the bottom by addiction is just a starting point for recovery and a future of all the good and wonderful days ahead.

Being just a small part of the treatment courts and their approach to recovery is a very special part of my work as court administrator.

5. What do you enjoy doing outside of work?

My passion is vested in the automobile. I was just about to have my 14th birthday when the 1955 Chevrolet was introduced with an all-new look and style. It was completely different from the 1954 models. At that age, I simply fell in love with cars. The passion has followed me throughout my life and is still there today.

I am a charter member of the Old Friends Car Club in Gainesville where we are active in car shows and cruise-ins. The original members of the club have all been friends in Gainesville for more than 50 years. We meet each Saturday morning in Gainesville and talk for hours about cars and the old days when times were slow and simple.

I am a licensed private pilot.

My wife and I enjoy gospel music and we travel frequently around the Southeast to gospel concerts.

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