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Kemp faces historic choice for judge
Lori Duff
Loganville Municipal Court Judge Lori B. Duff (pictured) is one of two women who were chosen by the state Judicial Nominating Commission as finalists to succeed Judge Samuel D. Ozburn. - contributed photo

MONROE, Ga. — Gov. Brian Kemp is expected to make a historic choice for a position of Superior Court judge.

The state Judicial Nominating Commission chose two women as finalists to succeed Judge Samuel D. Ozburn: Loganville Municipal Court Judge Lori B. Duff and District Attorney Layla H. Zon.

Either would be the first female Superior Court judge in the Alcovy Circuit, which covers Newton and Walton counties.

Duff is a partner in the Loganville law firm Jones & Duff. She was a finalist for the position after the General Assembly created a fifth judgeship a decade ago, but then-Gov. Sonny Perdue chose District Attorney Ken Wynne for the position.

Zon then followed Wynne as district attorney for the Alcovy Circuit.

Zon had announced her intentions to run for the seat Ozburn has held since 1996, but he decided to retire at the end of April instead of when the term expires Dec. 31. That gave Kemp the right to choose the judge, and the election is delayed to 2022.

The other four seats on the Alcovy Circuit are up for election in May.

Given the upheaval, Zon qualified to run for reelection as district attorney in the Republican primary while also submitting her paperwork for consideration to the JNC.

Duff is a graduate of Duke University and the Emory University Law School. She began her career in the DeKalb County district attorney’s office and was a judge pro tem in the DeKalb County Juvenile Court after going into private practice.

Duff also is an author.

Perdue appointed Zon district attorney in 2010, after she served as the senior assistant district attorney in Newton County, where she lives.

She is a graduate of Liberty University and the Georgia State University law school.

Zon joined the Alcovy Cirucit district attorney’s office as an assistant district attorney in 2000.

Layla Zon
District Attorney Layla H. Zon

In her office, she’s prosecuted several high-profile cases, including murder convictions of Christopher Michael McNabb and Cortney Marie Bell, accused of killing their infant daughter, Caliyah McNabb, in Newton County in 2017.

“I understand the practical and procedural ins and outs of jury trials and the potential appellate issues that can arise. I have prepared scores of briefs for the trial court and the appellate courts. Judges issue orders not only from the bench orally but often times in written form so legal writing experience is important,” Zon said at the time she announced her candidacy.

“Of course, a judge doesn’t only sit for trials. There are different procedural postures of a case as it travels through the court system for resolution.

“I have learned the importance of efficiency in the courtroom as a prosecutor and as a judge, I would likewise be respectful of the importance of moving cases along without unnecessary delay and expense to the parties or the taxpayers.”

Duff said she’s honored to be considered for the position.

“It was an impressive field of candidates, and I am honored and humbled to be on the short list,” she said. “I hope to have the opportunity to serve the citizens of the Alcovy Circuit. Gov. Kemp has a difficult decision ahead of him, but he is lucky in that he has no bad options.”

Ozburn, a native and resident of Newton County, will retire effective April 30.

There is one other retirement coming on the Alcovy Circuit bench, with Judge Eugene M. Benton leaving at the end of his term Dec. 31.

Monroe attorney Jeff Foster; Henry County prosecutor Chevada McCamy, a Social Circle native and Newton County resident; and Covington attorney Bob Stansfield have qualified to run in the nonpartisan election May 19.

Chief Judge John M. Ott, Judge Horace J. Johnson Jr. and Wynne all have qualified to run for reelection and are unopposed.