The environmental court has become a reality in Cobb County through the assistance of the Cobb Magistrate Court. In January 1995, Cobb County established a Code Enforcement Task Force to investigate and explore ways to improve enforcement of existing environmental codes . The Task Force also researched the development of some form of environmental court. Instead of developing a new court to handle violations, the cases are handled through the existing Magistrate Court. Violations can range from junk cars in someone's yard to illegal dumping.
Before the development of the Environmental Court, the county's zoning enforcement unit would make contact with violators and request that they comply with the law. If the offender failed to bring the property in compliance, a Petition for Injunction was filed in Cobb County Superior Court. An injunction is a civil action and often takes a lengthy period of time before being heard by a judge. Violators are often repeat offenders who comply with the law long enough for their case to be dismissed before the infraction reoccurs Under the old system, if and when an infraction reoccurred, the case would have to be re-filed in Superior Court.
Under the new system, violators are served with a warning which states that they are in criminal violation of certain zoning laws. If the offender fails to remedy the problem, they are give a citation to appear in Magistrate Court on a date certain to answer the misdemeanor criminal charges. With criminal prosecution comes the possibility of either a fine, incarceration or both. There is the hope that with the fear of punishment, violators will quickly comply with code requirements and stay in compliance in the future. It is estimated that Cobb County spends approximately $100,000 annually picking up litter. By bringing these cases in Magistrate Court instead of Superior Court, swifter decisions will be reached. One judge can hear the majority of cases, thus allowing that judge to become familiar not only with applicable law, but also with any habitual offenders. The Environmental Court is designed to ensure quick, decisive action which will deter future littering offenses. This results in less taxpayer dollars being used to enforce the littering laws and a cleaner county for residents and visitors alike.