Pool of Candidates for Open Judgeship Narrows
Three finalists --including an Oconee County magistrate judge-- await Gov. Deal's decision, which could come later this month.
The Western Judicial Circuit, which consists of Oconee and Athens-Clarke Counties, is one step closer to filling the vacancy left by Judge Steve Jones earlier this year. All that remains: the approval of the governor.
Gov. Nathan Deal is slated to interview the three finalists selected by the Judicial Nominating Commission, said Jen Talaber, communications specialist for the Governor's Office.
The finalists – Oconee County Chief Magistrate Judge Eric Norris, Winterville Municipal Court Judge H. Patrick Haggard and Athens attorney Phillip Griffeth – were chosen from a pool of 15 applicants, a news release from the Judicial Nominating Commission stated.
T.J. BeMent, 10th district court administrator, said the process has been pretty speedy.
“It's been fairly quick, comparatively speaking,” he said. “Very likely someone will be named before the end of April.”
That person will serve out the rest of Jones' term, then have to run for re-election.
Since Jones' resignation March 2, four senior judges have stepped in to take the caseload. Semi-retired, the judges come in for a day or a few days, depending on their availability, to ensure a mountain of cases don't stack up to greet the replacement judge on his first day.
BeMent said roughly 1,000 criminal cases and and 1,400 civil cases were assigned to Jones annually – equating to at least 400 new cases since Jones left. Of the roughly 2,400 criminal and civil cases, about 500 are from Oconee County, BeMent added.
Jones' staff attorney followed him to the federal position, but his secretary has remained behind, BeMent said. The newly-appointed judge will decide if he wants to keep the secretary on board or look for a new one.
Jones' resignation stemmed from his appointment in July by President Barack Obama to serve on a federal court, the U.S. Northern District of Georgia's Atlanta division. Jones – who was approved by the U.S. Senate by a unanimous 90-0 vote – said he's enjoying the new position.
“Things are going smooth,” he said, adding that the job is similar because “the law is the law.”
At the federal level, Jones hears cases from all over the country. But the biggest perk may just be his appointment by the president.
“It's a great honor, there's no question about that,” he said.