Dozens Vie For 3 Bench Openings In Oconee And Chattahoochee
Nomination deadline was extended after retiring judge said circuit's bench lacked diversity
Thirty-one lawyers and judges have applied for three judicial vacancies in the Chattahoochee and Oconee Judicial circuits.
The Chattahoochee Circuit, which has two openings on its Superior Court bench, drew 23 nominations, and at least eight of them are African-American.
Race became an issue in the nominations after Chattahoochee Superior Court Chief Judge John Allen sent Governor Nathan Deal and Deal's Judicial Nominating Commission a memo urging them to consider diversity in filling his seat. Allen is the sole African-American on the circuit's bench and his retirement at the end of the month is creating one of the openings. The JNC extended the nominating deadlines for the Chattahoochee and Oconee circuits by two weeks to Oct. 3 in hopes of recruiting a more diverse slate of nominees.
When it extended the nomination deadline, the JNC said it was doing so to "permit time for more nominations in the interest of diversity and to provide the full opportunity for participation throughout the Circuit," adding that the governor wanted to "take extra steps to ensure that every potential nominee has the opportunity to be considered and that interested groups can encourage nominees."
In his memo, Allen cautioned that an all-white and male judiciary in the Columbus area circuit would be "egregiously unrepresentative of the population served."
Allen noted the high proportion of African-American residents in the circuit and referred to the "face of justice" created by judicial appointments. With his retirement, he said, the five remaining judges in the circuit would all be white males.
JNC co-chairman Randy Evans, a partner at McKenna Long & Aldridge, said he was encouraged about the increase in applicants, though the number of minorities was "not where we want to be."
"In a predominantly minority judicial circuit, you'd like for the applicant pool to be evenly divided," Evans said Friday. Having a nominee pool that is at least a third African-American "compared to other judgeship [nominee pools in the past] is way up based on my recollection. It means we're making progress, but we've still got a ways to go."
Allen declined to comment on the list of nominees when reached by the Daily Report on Friday. The Daily Report's attempts to contact presidents of the Gate City Bar and the Georgia Association of Black Women Attorneys also were unsuccessful.
The Chattahoochee Circuit's second judicial vacancy was created by legislation approved last session by the Georgia General Assembly and requested by the Judicial Council of Georgia to address the circuit's growing caseload. Oconee's opening also was created by legislation supported by the Judicial Council.