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Cobb County, Ga., soon will seat its first black judge, but it’s not the only Georgia county that’s behind when it comes to minority representation on the bench. Gov. Roy E. Barnes’ appointment last week of Bridgett J. Campbell to the Cobb bench highlights a longstanding disparity in the state’s judiciary: Georgia’s judges are overwhelmingly white in a state where one-quarter of the population is black and other minorities are growing in numbers. Just 64 of the 787 judges on Georgia’s Supreme, Appeals, Superior, State and magistrate courts are black. The lack of racial diversity may affect the perception people have of the judiciary. “If you don’t have a bench that somewhat reflects the composition of the people coming before it, those people will be concerned about being treated fairly,” says DeKalb State Court Judge Wayne Purdom. Athens Superior Court Judge Steven C. Jones places greater emphasis on the perception of the African-American community as a whole than he does on the people who appear before him. “For one thing, it’s a good example. Kids growing up in the neighborhood — they think they can be a judge,” he says. Jones, who grew up in Athens, speaks at local schools. “I can see that look in their eye, sometimes,” he says. He also mentions community perceptions, recalling a recent Daily Report story about blacks’ poor perception of the judicial system. According to the study, conducted by the National Center for State Courts, nearly half of polled Latinos and whites who had had contact with the court system believe it is “usually or always” fair. Only 15 percent of blacks with similar exposure agreed. When African-Americans see minorities on the bench, “it helps them have more confidence in the system,” Jones says. Marjorie Girth, a professor of law at Georgia State University’s College of Law, emphasizes that diversity is not a black-white issue any longer. She notes Georgia’s burgeoning Asian and Hispanic populations. “I am concerned that now that Georgia’s citizenry is becoming diverse in so many ways that we should try to reflect that fact — not only in judicial appointments, but the workforce of public systems.” Citizens are likely to be more comfortable in situations where decision-makers share similar backgrounds and experience, she says. To the extent that the judicial selection process is in the hands of political decision-makers, Girth says, Georgia would be well-served if these leaders consider qualified members of the Asian and Hispanic communities. Purdom, Jones and Girth, who are members of the Supreme Court of Georgia Commission on Equality, agree that Georgia’s past two governors have worked hard to improve minority representation on the bench. Gov. Barnes wants to appoint more minorities, according to George “Buddy” Darden, a partner at Atlanta-based Long Aldridge & Norman and chairman of the Judicial Nominating Commission, which interviews candidates and develops short lists to be sent to the governor. “He believes in an inclusive and a representative judiciary,” Darden says of Barnes. “When you have a judiciary which is representative of the people, this gives the judiciary increased efficacy � among everyone.” Darden says Barnes’ sole appointment criterion is selecting the best person for the job, but that he has no reluctance to appoint women and minorities. So far, Barnes has appointed 31 judges. Eight of those are black, and one is Hispanic. His appointment was too recent to be included in the statistics provided by the Administrative Office of the Courts. Darden says that when Barnes has the chance to appoint a woman or a racial minority judge, he has often done so. But at least nine of the judicial nominating pools didn’t offer Barnes a woman or racial minority candidate, Darden says. “The difficulty comes in achieving a pool, a pool of candidates, of nominees from which the commission can make its recommendations,” he says. That difficulty may increase in coming years. According to Judge Purdom, there are signs that the number of minority law school graduates has leveled off or decreased. He fears the pool of qualified minority applicants will drop as a result. Judge Jones — a Gov. Zell Miller minority appointee who has twice run unopposed for his seat — attributes fewer minority law school graduates to the fact that “a lot of people are doing things other than law,” such as entering technology fields. Former Gov. Miller, who recently was appointed to serve out the term of the late Sen. Paul Coverdell, increased diversity on the bench. When Miller began his first term as governor in January 1991, just six of Georgia’s 136 Superior Court judges were black. Five of the 86 State Court judges were black. By the time he left office eight years later, he’d appointed 15 black Superior Court judges and eight black State Court judges. He also appointed a black judge to the state supreme court and another to the Georgia Court of Appeals. During his eight years as governor, he appointed 128 of Georgia’s 287 trial and appellate court judges. Of those, 25 are African-American. He had an unusual opportunity to appoint judges because litigation pending when he took office left him responsible for filling more than 48 judgeships. In 1988, state Rep. Tyrone Brooks, D-Atlanta, the American Civil Liberties Union, and other plaintiffs filed a voting rights suit against the state. They attacked judicial selection in circuitwide, at-large elections, claiming discrimination because the white majority typically outvoted the black minority. As a result, they said, most judges were white. Brooks v. State Board of Elections, No. CV288-146 (S.D. Ga. July 13, 1988). They also alleged that since 1964, the state should have been submitting laws creating new judgeships for review by the U.S. Justice Department, under the federal Voting Rights Act. On review, a special three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court in Savannah, Ga., agreed with the Brooks plaintiffs. So when Miller became governor, the Justice Department was holding in limbo 48 established judgeships and other new judgeships created since the litigation began. Faced with a large number of appointments, Miller revamped the Judicial Nominating Commission to open the process to minorities and women. In addition to other changes, his 1991 executive order requires that the commission include one woman and one member who is “Black, Hispanic, Asian-Pacific American, Native American, or Asian-Indian American.” Those appointments have been called Miller’s legacy. His predecessor, Gov. Joe Frank Harris, made 76 judicial appointments in his eight-year tenure. Ten were black, according to information from Miller’s office. As a mark of how well the governors are doing, the commission no longer is aggressively working to increase the number of minorities on the bench, Purdom says. Instead, it is focusing on the role of interpreters, on training bailiffs about ethnic diversity, and on mediation in domestic violence divorce cases. Miller and Barnes have been active in making an impact, he says. The general perception, he adds, is that Barnes has been responsive to the situation and “nobody wants to jog his elbow.”

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