The Appellate Practice Section of the State Bar of Georgia convened as part of the Georgia Bar’s mid-year meeting. In spite of the fact that many participants came over from the swearing-in of Judge Boggs to the Court of Appeals, the luncheon was lively and well-attended. Originally intended to be a candidates’s forum for candidates to an open spot on the Supreme Court of Georgia, events changed the format. However several judges on the Court of Appeals and Supreme Court have seats up for re-election this year. And the meeting became an opportunity for brief comments from judges and justices. Without covering each mini-speech, I’ll highlight a few judicial comments about the nature of judicial elections and about what life is like for the judiciary under the leadership of a new governor.
It should come as no great surprise that the former governor did not have a particularly bright spot in his heart for the judiciary or even for lawyers. From the comments I heard, things appear to be better now.
Supreme Court Chief Justice Carol Hunstein noted that the new administration is “kindler and gentler,” in terms of budgetary support and basic understanding of what judges and lawyers do. Governor Deal is requesting $10 million for “accountability courts.” Accountability courts are focused on particular needs of a category of defendant. Accountability courts include drug courts, DUI Courts, mental health courts, and veterans courts. The Chief Justice noted that the governor’s son runs an accountability court and that the governor himself was once a juvenile court judge. She and former chief judge Yvette Miller, spoke of how difficult it was for the two appellate courts to make ends meet in the darkest days of the Perdue administration. Both were complimentary of the new governor, and the dark clouds of former days appear to have moved away.
Equally interesting was the general tone about the nature of judicial elections in Georgia. Chief Justice Hunstein, who faced down a well-funded challenge by Mike Wiggins in 2006 (PDF), noted optimistically that a judge’s job at election time is simply to “get the message out, and you can trust Georgia voters.” She looked back on her 2006 election as a time of fear that had she lost then every judge would be intimidated by special interest groups. And she hoped that the 2006 election proved that special interests can’t defeat a sitting judge. For candidates this year, she advised lawyers to inform the choices of non-lawyers. After all, if the judiciary is doing its job, judges should not be in the headlines. Hence, it should not be unusual for the general public to be unfamiliar with the judges.
To date, no challengers have announced an intent to run against any of the Court of Appeals judges or Supreme Court Justices who are up for election. The year ahead looks to be a time of stability for the appellate courts with apparently no contested elections and with a supportive governor in office.