Three years after being appointed to office, Fulton County Chief Magistrate Judge Cassandra Kirk—the first to preside over the court since the General Assembly made the position an elected office—has drawn a challenger.
Levenson & Associates principal Louis Levenson, who spent 30 years as an appointed Fulton magistrate before he resigned shortly after Kirk’s appointment, announced Monday he will seek the position in the nonpartisan May 22 election.
Kirk’s appointment by Gov. Nathan Deal in 2015 was one of several changes authorized by the General Assembly under legislation that split the Magistrate Court off the State Court the year before.
Under that legislation, the position will be filled by the voters every four years after the governor’s initial appointment. It was formerly filled by a vote of the State Court judges.
A graduate of Washington and Lee University School of Law, Kirk joined the Georgia bar in 1992. Prior to her appointment, she spent four years as a Fulton County Juvenile Court judge and was with the county’s Child Attorney Office for three years before that.
Levenson, an Emory University School of Law graduate who joined the State Bar of Georgia in 1978, is a civil litigator and well-known figure at the Fulton County Courthouse, which is only a few blocks from his Broad Street office.
Neither Kirk nor Levenson immediately responded to questions Monday.
In a prepared release, Kirk pointed to her work launching the newly independent court.
“I’m proud of the work our court has accomplished over the last three years,” Kirk said. “My mission has been to empower litigants through innovation, efficiency and accessibility. To that end, we completed a much-needed website update and implemented a transparent, public selection process for new judges.
“Last, but not least, we implemented a mandatory e-filing system and helped clear the Court’s 30,000 small claims case backlog,” she added.
Levenson—who represented a client last year in a now-dismissed suit against the Magistrate Court over the handling of bulk dispossessory filings—issued his own release Monday announcing his candidacy, touting both his experience and criticizing what he said were inefficiencies at the court.
“The Fulton Magistrate Court is the busiest in the state of Georgia handling civil and criminal matters, and in the last three years has failed to deliver service efficiently,” Levenson said. “I believe we need change. The Magistrate Court is the court of the people and must be held to a higher standard of timing for handling of cases than we are currently experiencing.”
In an interview, Levenson said he was approached by several people in the legal community concerned about the direction the Magistrate Court has taken under Kirk’s leadership.
“I don’t have anything against Cassandra Kirk. I’ve met her several times, and I like her,” said Levenson.
“But she lacks the relevant experience,” he said, asserting the governor “saw fit to appoint someone with no experience in civil matters, no experience in garnishment matters, no experience in small claims matters.”
“The Fulton County Magistrate Court is the busiest court in the state,” Levenson said. “I do think experience counts for something, and lots of lawyers who practice there have come to me concerned about the delays, that the system is not responding the demands of a high-volume court.”