Over objections from a Georgia voter group that questioned attorney Clint Bearden’s role in the prosecution of a citizen journalist, Gov. Nathan Deal has appointed Bearden as a Superior Court judge for the Northeastern Judicial District.
Bearden, an attorney in the law offices of Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, was one of three people recommended by the state Judicial Nominating Commission for the circuit’s fifth judicial post. The post was created by the Georgia General Assembly earlier this year.
The other two candidates were Hall County State Court Judge Larry Baldwin II and Northeastern Judicial Circuit Juvenile Court Chief Judge Lindsay Burton.
Bearden, who also serves as a part-time associate magistrate judge in Dawson County, is past-president of the Dawson County Republican Party. A 2008 graduate of the University of Georgia School of Law, he has worked both as an intern for Deal when Deal was a U.S. representative and as an intern for Deal’s son, Superior Court Judge Jason Deal. He also interned for state Sen. Bill Stephens, R-Canton, and served as an aide to former state Sen. Chip Rogers, R-Woodstock.
Bearden’s role in the arrest and prosecution of citizen journalist Nydia Tisdale had drawn complaints from Voters Organized for Trusted Election Results in Georgia (VOTERGA), a nonpartisan voter rights organization that had questioned Bearden’s fitness for the bench and petitioned Deal to reject his candidacy as a superior court judge.
Bearden could not be reached Friday for comment.
The judicial district where he will preside includes Dawson County, where Tisdale was arrested in 2014 during a Republican political rally at a local pumpkin farm and where a jury on Dec. 4 convicted her of misdemeanor obstruction of a law enforcement officer. The jury acquitted Tisdale of felony obstruction and of criminal trespass—the underlying charge that led to her arrest and forcible removal from the rally at Burt’s Pumpkin Farm by a Dawson County sheriff’s deputy. Tisdale was sentenced Dec. 18 to a year’s probation on the misdemeanor offense.
In a letter to Deal, VOTERGA said Bearden had initiated Tisdale’s forced removal and arrest. The letter said he also had denied under oath that he had helped to advertise the rally as open to the public at large, even though emails he exchanged with then-Dawson County Republican Party chairwoman Linda Umberger that were introduced at trial revealed that the two had discussed advertising in local newspapers to promote the event.
The letter also contended that Bearden’s testimony that political candidates at the rally had objected to Tisdale’s recording of the event had been impugned by five state officials who spoke at the rally and testified at Tisdale’s trial.
Garland Favorito, a co-founder of VOTERGA, told the Daily Report that the group complained to Deal because, “We were concerned … [that] a sitting judge did not understand the First Amendment of the Constitution and would not respect First Amendment rights.”