Qualifying week for the May 22 statewide nonpartisan judicial elections wound down Friday with a lot of clear winners.
The only contested open seat is on the Georgia Court of Appeals, vacated by Judge John Ellington. He is leaving to run for Justice Carol Hunstein’s open seat on the Georgia Supreme Court. But Ellington drew no challengers for the high court and so will be on the ballot alone.
The candidates seeking to replace Ellington on the Court of Appeals are Kenneth Hodges and Kenneth Shigley. Both are trial lawyers with plaintiffs’ practices. Both are active in the State Bar of Georgia. And both have been raising money and campaigning for much of the past year.
The other statewide justice-related job on the ballot is that of Republican Attorney General Chris Carr. Gov. Nathan Deal appointed Carr midterm to replace Sam Olens. Carr is running for the first time but will enjoy incumbent status on the ballot. He has drawn a Democratic challenger, former Fulton County gang prosecutor and senior assistant district attorney Charlie Bailey.
Voters will be confronted with a long list of nonchoices in the nonpartisan election for appellate judges. All of the governor’s appointees to expansion positions on the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals are running unopposed, as are their more senior colleagues who are up for election this year.
So, for the Georgia Supreme Court, the winners are:
- Justice Harold Melton, who is expected to move up to the top spot when Chief Justice P. Harris Hines retires in August.
- Justice Michael Boggs, who is running for the first time there but has been elected statewide several times as a judge on the Court of Appeals before the governor elevated him in early 2017. Boggs replaced former Chief Justice Hugh Thompson, who retired.
- Justice Nels Peterson, also running for the first time after filling an expansion position in January 2017. The governor also appointed Peterson to the Court of Appeals to fill an expansion there at the start of 2016. He wasn’t there long enough to have an election.
- Justice Britt Grant, who filled the other expansion position when the high court grew from seven to nine justices in January 2017. Grant is a former state solicitor general, a job Peterson held before her. This also will be her first election.
And for the Court of Appeals, the uncontested winners are:
- Judge M. Yvette Miller, who has been on the court since 1999.
- Chief Judge Stephen Dillard of Macon—who won’t be in the job long, if the governor moves him up to the high court when Chief Justice P. Harris Hines retires in August.
- Judge Brian Rickman, the former North Georgia prosecutor who is running for the first time, having been appointed to fill an expansion position on the Court of Appeals in January 2016.
- Judge Amanda Mercier, also running for the first time, having been appointed at the same time as Rickman when the Court of Appeals grew from 12 to 15 in 2016. The third new judge then was Peterson, who has already moved up to the high court.
- Judge Charlie Bethel, a former state senator from Dalton appointed by the governor last year.
- Judge Clyde Reese III, appointed to replace former Chief Judge Herbert Phipps of Albany, who retired.
Judge Tripp Self would have been on the ballot for the first time in that position, but he just left upon his confirmation March 5 as President Donald Trump’s appointee to the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia. Self served for just over a year on the Court of Appeals, after a 10-year run as a superior court judge in Macon.
The governor’s Judicial Nominating Commission is accepting applications now to fill Self’s job, along with that of Judge Elizabeth Branch, who just went to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, and whatever other openings come up. Trump also has appointed Judge William Ray to the federal bench. If he is confirmed, his position will be open. And another may follow, if Deal moves someone up to replace Hines on the Supreme Court.