Randy Evans (left) and Suzanne Ockleberry Randy Evans (left) and Suzanne Ockleberry

One of Gov. Nathan Deal’s key advisers on judicial appointments is making a push for more minority and female lawyers to be nominated for a pack of state Court of Appeals vacancies.

Randy Evans, the co-chairman of Deal’s Judicial Nominating Commission, said Monday that in the week since the panel announced it was seeking nominees, “I got a little worried” that the growing pool of candidates could lack diversity.

Deal has been criticized by minority groups saying he has appointed too many white lawyers to the bench. Suzy Ockleberry, a representative from one group, Advocacy for Action, told the Daily Report when she learned of Evans’ campaign, that some minorities have been disappointed by previous judicial appointments.

She still smarts from 2016, when five openings on the state’s appellate courts went to three white men, one white woman and one African-American man. “The proof is in the pudding,” she said.

Last week, the JNC asked the public for nominations to fill at least three openings on the 15-member appeals court. A fourth opening is likely, as the U.S. Senate is weighing Judge Billy Ray’s nomination for a federal court seat. A fifth opening could occur later this year when Chief Justice Harris Hines of the state Supreme Court is expected to retire, if Deal chooses a Court of Appeals judge to fill that vacancy. The JNC said Deal will choose for any openings on the appeals court from the pool of candidates applying now.

At midday Monday, Evans said the JNC had received the names of 100 nominees, with women’s names making up about one-third of the list. From the names, it wasn’t possible to gauge the proportion of racial minorities who have been nominated.

Being nominated just means someone has forwarded a name to the commission. To be considered for an interview, nominees must fill out an application. State law requires that appeals court judges have been admitted to the practice of law for at least seven years.

The deadline for nominations, which can be emailed, is Friday. Completed applications are due March 30.

“You can nominate yourself,” said Evans, adding that who nominates a candidate is not a factor in the commission’s discussions. “The most important thing is, do you think you have something to contribute to Georgia’s judiciary?”

“When we have the most diverse group of applicants, [minorities and women] get on shortlists,” said Evans, adding that gubernatorial picks sometimes go on other courts. He cited Judge Eleanor Ross, an African-American woman whom Deal placed on the DeKalb County State Court and then was tapped by President Barack Obama for the federal district court.

In 2016, Deal said in an interview with the Daily Report, “Is racial diversity more important than excellence and credentials and ability? It’s a factor, but is it the most important factor? I don’t think so.”

Evans said Monday that focusing on diversity “isn’t a compromise on quality.”