For those awaiting Gov. Sonny Perdues decision on who will be the next superior court judge for the Augusta Judicial Circuit, one milestone passed last week almost unnoticed. And it may boost the chance that Perdue will pick a Democrat for the local post.
Ever since Lyn Allgood stepped down from the bench, speculation on his replacement has focused on the candidates qualifications and political party affiliation.
Georgias Judicial Nominating Commission, headed by Mike Bowers, sifted through the applicants and gave Perdue five names to consider. Two of them are Republicans: lo-cal attorneys Mike Annis and Bill Sams. One says hes a Republican, but serves in a non-partisan post: Jim Wall, Augustas city attorney. And two are Democrats: Augusta District Attorney Danny Craig, and Augusta Solicitor Sheryl Jolly.
Behind-the-scenes guessing has been that Perdue would appoint a Republican, with Annis considered the favorite. The Augusta Circuit post represented Perdues first superior court pick in Georgia, and thus would be closely watched as a test of the governors party loyalty.
Not so fast: Perdue has already made his first superior court pick - and it isnt in Augusta.
Perdues office announced last week that Bill Fears was chosen as superior court judge for Jacksons Towaliga circuit. With the first pick out of the way, that takes some of the pressure - and spotlight - off of filling Augustas post with a Republican.
Does that mean Craig, who has significant public support, now has a better shot at the job? Not if local Republicans have anything to do with it. At a recent party breakfast, Columbia County Republican Party Chairman Lee Muns emphasized party unity. I dont think we have any closet Republicans supporting a Democrat, Muns said.
Of course, theres more than a party fight going on here. Muns son is sitting in jail, charged with rape; until recently, Craigs office was vigorously prosecuting the case. Craig has since turned the case over to Athens Dis-trict Attorney Ken Mauldin.
Craig cites his long-time friendship with Richard Muns, Lees father, in recusing himself from the red-hot case, while denying the pending judicial appointment has anything to do with it.
After his party-unity comments at the recent breakfast, Muns himself stepped aside for a presentation to the group from one of Craigs lieutenants. Assistant District Attorney Mike Carlson made a cautionary case for over-reliance on party affiliation as a factor in the temperament of judicial appointees.
Carlsons presentation actually focused on how conservatives can cope with a steady march of liberal U.S. Supreme Court decisions, and he said Republicans must demand competent, qualified conservatives be appointed to judicial posts.
But must those conservatives also be Republicans, or a Republican appointee? As Carlsons presentation showed, thats no guarantee of conservative temperament. Liberal Supreme Court rulings on such key issues as capital punishment, abortion and immigration came from courts made up of a majority of justices appointed by Republican presidents. Recent rulings on racial preferences and the rejection of the Texas sodomy law also came with the help of Republican appointees.
You cannot blame the Democrats for these decisions, Carlson said.
By the way: That Texas case reversed a High Court ruling in Bowers vs. Hardwick, which had upheld Georgias sodomy law. That earlier ruling is named for former Georgia attorney general, and now Judicial Nominating Commission chairman, Mike Bowers.
Bowers used to be a Democrat - as was Perdue.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to bpaschal@ newstimesonline.com.)
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