Left to right: Ann Harris and Juanita Stedman
Left to right: Ann Harris and Juanita Stedman ()

By noon on the day after the election for an open seat on Cobb County Superior Court, the two candidates who made it into a runoff were battling over who’d best promote law and order, and the third-place contender had picked one of them to endorse.

Cobb County Senior Assistant District Attorney Ann Harris led a field of three candidates to replace retiring Judge James Bodiford. She garnered 23,638 votes, or 40.76 percent of Tuesday’s turnout, which was only 17.45 percent of registered Cobb voters, according to the Georgia secretary of state’s website. Cobb Juvenile Court Judge Juanita Stedman came in second, with 18,334 votes, or 31.61 percent, securing a spot in the July 22 runoff with Harris. Attorney and Marietta Municipal Court Judge Nathan Wade came in a close third, with 16,021 votes, or 27.63 percent.

Wade said Wednesday morning that Harris had approached him early in the campaign and suggested an agreement that whoever of the two of them didn’t make it into a runoff would support the one who did. “I’m a man of my word, and I intend to do just that,” Wade said.

Harris confirmed that she and Wade had “talked early on” about supporting each other in the event of a runoff, although she said the agreement was “nothing specific.” By noon Wednesday, though, she added, she and Wade had already talked to solidify his support for her. “I was very gratified he was willing to support me,” Harris said. “It’s very encouraging. There was no hesitation at all.”

Stedman was surprised to hear of the agreement between her opponents Wednesday morning. “I am shocked that he is going to support her because the people who are voting for him are not the people who want to see everybody locked up,” Stedman said. “Maybe that’s politically smart [for Harris] but I don’t think that a lot of Nathan’s supporters would support Ann Harris.”

From the beginning, the three candidates offered a study in contrasts.

Harris, a career prosecutor with 19 years working for the Cobb County district attorney, advertised herself as “tough on crime.” In a campaign forum, she said she was running for the judicial position to “hold the cold-blooded killers accountable.” She won the support of her boss, District Attorney Vic Reynolds, and her former boss, retired DA Patrick Head.

Stedman has been a Juvenile Court judge for 14 years, a job that includes assisting in Superior Court. She also has presided over drug treatment courts and served on statewide committees for Gov. Nathan Deal’s criminal justice reform program, which focuses on the development of more “problem-solving” treatment courts for defendants with substance abuse or mental health issues.

Stedman has emphasized that she is the only candidate with experience as an assisting superior court judge, and that her work in family and juvenile court would be helpful in divorce and custody cases. She had the support of Sheriff Neil Warren and retired Sheriff Bill Hutson.

“It was a tough place to be, between the candidate backed by the current and former DA and the candidate backed by the current and former sheriff,” Wade said of his third-place finish. Wade is a former prosecutor with the solicitor general’s office but has most recently run a law firm that handles criminal defense and divorce work. He had emphasized that if elected he would become the first African-American on the court.

Stedman said Wednesday she believes Wade’s breadth of experience made him more qualified than Harris. Harris shot back that Stedman’s juvenile court experience does not necessarily qualify her as a superior court judge.

“The goals of juvenile court and superior court are very different. The race is about superior court,” Harris said. “The goals of juvenile court are about reuniting families, reuniting the child with his home. Those are all very worthy goals. But when you get to superior court, you’re dealing with different crimes and different impact on the community. It’s a different level of offender.”

Harris also said her experience prosecuting defendants in superior court is more specific to the job. “Public safety is very important to people who live in Cobb County. Public safety starts with the police but it ends in the courtroom,” she said. “Public safety, holding people accountable, resonates with the voters. That’s the choice.”

Stedman emphasized that criminal cases make up only one of three important parts of the work of a superior court judge. “I’m tough on crime,” she said. “D.A.s have liked me because I’m tough on crime. Victims have liked me because I’m tough on crime. You can bet your bottom dollar that Neal Warren would not have supported me if I weren’t tough on crime. But that’s not the only thing that superior court does.”

In the other Cobb County lawyers’ race, Solicitor General Barry Morgan defeated challenger Cindi Yeager, 26,743 votes, or 61.8 percent, to 16,527, or 38.2 percent.