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Four Judges Named in Columbus, Eastman

Gov. Deal's appointments include a white woman and an African-American man, but diversity issue lingers

, Daily Report

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Gov. Nathan Deal has named three new judges in Columbus and one in Eastman, but his picks may not quell the concerns over the Chattahoochee Circuit's lack of racial diversity.

Deal announced Tuesday that he had appointed Chattahoochee Circuit State Court Judge Maureen Gottfried and J. Ronald Mullins, a partner at Page, Scrantom, Sprouse, Tucker & Ford, to the circuit's Superior Court. The governor also appointed Muscogee County Solicitor-General Ben Richardson to replace Gottfried on the State Court bench and solo practitioner C. Michael Johnson to the Oconee Circuit Superior Court.

Both of Deal's picks for the Chattahoochee Circuit's Superior Court in Columbus are white, resulting in an all-white, seven-member bench.

Prior to his retirement in October, Judge John Allen, who was the only African-American on that bench, sent a letter to the governor and the Judicial Nominating Commission urging them to strongly consider diversity in filling his seat. African-American population in the circuit's six counties ranges from 17 percent to 58 percent. Muscogee, the largest county and home to Columbus, is 46 percent African-American.

"I am certain you are aware of the 'face of justice' created by your appointments to the bench," wrote Allen, who took senior status. "Upon my retirement, the composition of the Superior Court bench of the Chattahoochee Circuit will be five white males. If the pattern of the two most recent appointments is continued in the two impending vacancies, the Superior Court bench of this circuit will be composed of seven white males."

Allen was referring to the 2010 appointment of William Rumer by Gov. Sonny Perdue and the 2011 appointment of Art Smith by Deal.

In response to Allen, the JNC extended its nomination deadline by two weeks in hopes of attracting more minority nominees. In early November, the JNC interviewed 22 applicants, of which at least eight were African-American, for the two vacancies. The second vacancy was created by legislation approved last session.

The JNC delivered a short list of five names to Deal, two of which were African-American. Deal conducted interviews earlier this month and made his appointments on Monday. The governor's office did not respond to a request for comment on the issue of diversity.

Deal, who likes to elevate current judges, thereby creating new vacancies, added some diversity to the Chattahoochee trial courts when he named Gottfried to the Superior Court. She will be the only woman on the bench. And Deal tapped an African-American prosecutor, Richardson, to replace her in State Court.

Allen declined comment when reached Tuesday. A report published Monday night on the Columbus Ledger-Inquirer's website said Allen praised all three Chattahoochee appointments. However, his statement stopped short of saying that all three were "imminently qualified."

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