With the Sept. 8 deadline nearing for local residents to nominate candidates for the fifth judge position for Alcovy Judicial Circuit, several prominent Newton and Walton county attorneys and law officials have already had their hats thrown into the ring.
As of Tuesday afternoon, District Attorney Ken Wynne and local attorneys Stan Cox, Lori Duff, Donald Osborne, Tricia Smith and Robert Stansfield have been nominated so far, according to Barbara Watson, who works at the law office of the Judicial Nomination Commission Chair, the body that will ultimately select the finalists to present to Gov. Sonny Perdue.
On Friday, Sen. John Douglas (R- Social Circle) announced that he will nominate Covington resident David Strickland for the position.
"I have known David since 1996 and found him to be a great leader in our community, a man of impeccable legal credentials, and a rising star in judicial circles," Douglas said in a press release. "I am confident that he will make an outstanding addition to the bench in these two counties."
Strickland has experience in many areas of law from his 20 years as a lawyer and his 13 years as part-time municipal court judge for Covington and Porterdale. Strickland said that municipal courts have limited jurisdiction and typically deal with misdemeanor cases, particularly those involving driving offenses, and with any violations of city ordinances.In addition to his work as judge, Strickland is a partner with the law firm of Alexander, Royston, Hardman, Shinall & Strickland. He said he mainly works on local government cases, because he is the general counsel for the City of Oxford and the Newton
County Water and Sewage Authority. Strickland said he thinks his experience and temperament will help him if selected.
"I think it’s important that you understand the law and are willing to listen to attorneys argue the law, particularly portions of it that you may be less familiar with. Everything is fact specific and there’s so much detail in all things you hear in court. You have to be willing to acknowledge what you know and don’t know and be willing to be educated, as well as check their facts. I’ve always enjoyed doing that; it’s something I found rewarding," Strickland said.
"You have to have the right temperament to be a judge. You have to be able to listen to people and make as honest and fair of a decision as you can. Then you deal with whatever comes up tomorrow; you let it go and move on to the next trial or matter."
Wynne has been Alcovy Circuit District Attorney for nine years and served as an assistant district attorney for 12 years before that. Wynne has been a former president of District Attorneys’ Association of Georgia and the Alcovy Bar Association, and is current president of the board of directors of A Child’s Voice Advocacy Center, a non-profit child advocacy center in the Alcovy Circuit.
Wynne said he enjoys being a district attorney, but would also look forward to the opportunity to be a judge.
"It’s a win-win situation for me, because I enjoy doing what I do so much now that if the governor selects one of the other candidates, I will still be able to remain in a job I thoroughly enjoy, but if he does select me, I will have the opportunity to pursue a job which will present new and different challenges," Wynne said.
Attorney Bob Stansfield, of the firm Greer, Stansfield and Turner, was nominated by Rep. Doug Holt, who said a mutual friend recommended Stansfield. Holt said he thinks all of the nominees would make great judges, but Stansfield was the first to approach him in April, a few weeks after funding for the position was included in the state's FY2010 budget. Stansfield has practiced law for nearly 22 years, mostly in the business and real estate world.
"My disposition and training would enable me to serve the community as a trial judge, ruling on the cases and helping people resolve problems, to perform a public service," Stansfield said. "Having never been a judge, I’m willing to offer myself in that capacity, again by training and disposition I think I’m equipped if I were selected. I do see that as an important part of public service."
Holt said that people tend to look to legislators to nominate candidates, because they may have more sway with the governor, but he said that any resident can send in a nomination.
Two of attorney Lori Duff’s clients may have just done that. Duff, of the law firm Jones and Duff, said she wants to be a fifth judge because she could bring a unique perspective to the bench, mainly because of her broad legal experience, but also because she would be the first woman elected to the Alcovy Circuit.
"I’ve been a prosecutor for 10 years, and I’m married to a police officer, so I have that law and order background. For past five years I’ve been a defense attorney and I’ve also done civil work," Duff said. "I also have judicial experience, because I’ve been a judge pro tempore in juvenile court ... on top of that there has not ever been a female judge in Alcovy Circuit."
Nominees Cox, Osborne and Smith could not be reached for comment Tuesday afternoon.
Douglas said that the last judge appointed to the Alcovy Circuit was a Walton County resident, so by traditional rotation the next judge should be a Newton County resident. However, Watson said the JNC will choose the best candidates regardless of where they live.
Chief Alcovy Superior Court Judge John Ott said that the new judge will be housed in the Newton County Judicial center, because Newton County has a larger population and, therefore, the greater need for an on-site judge.
Any resident of Newton or Walton counties may nominate a fellow, eligible resident and members of the bar association may also nominate themselves. Candidates must be at least 30 years old, have been a citizen of Georgia for at least three years, and have practiced law for at least seven years. Names should be sent to Judicial Nominating Commission Chairman Michael Bowers by Sept. 8. Residents can mail the names to 30 Ivan Allen Jr. Blvd. NW, Suite 700, Atlanta, Ga, 30308, fax them to (866) 547-3433 or e-mail them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
When the JNC receives all nominations on Sept. 8, it will then send the nominees out questionnaires, which must be completed by Sept. 28. Interviews will be held in Atlanta on Oct. 13, according to an Aug. 21 letter sent out by Bowers.
After that point the JNC will choose up to five finalists to present to Perdue; no timetable has been set for the governor to make a decision.