It was startling enough to learn last year that Superior Court Judge Duncan Wheale, battling prostate cancer, plans to step down at the end of 2008. But now fellow judge Neal Dickert also has announced plans to retire as of Nov. 1 of this year.
And boy, are the little hamster-wheels turning in political and legal circles.
We saw what kind of a public free-for-all occurs when a judge resigns in time to allow an election for a rare open seat. When former Senior Judge William Fleming stepped down last year, four attorneys signed up to run and David Roper eventually won a nasty runoff battle with Bill Williams.
However, when a judge quits in midstream, the whole equation changes. Rather than a big, out-in-the-open election run, most of the campaigning takes place behind closed doors.
And this is when Columbia County also finds just how much - or how little - influence it has with Georgia's governor.
Local attorneys will apply for the job once a vacancy is declared. The state's Judicial Nominating Commission will evaluate the candidates and select finalists. Gov. Sonny Perdue will pick the new judge.
So, who will get it? Will it be District Attorney Danny Craig, whose only hope of a judgeship is to get an appointment? He can't afford, literally, the risk of running for a judgeship, because losing a race would end the insurance coverage for his invalid daughter. Or will it be Columbia County Chief Magistrate Wade Padgett?
There will be others interested, of course, but Craig and Padgett are at the top of any list. If either one is chosen, that leaves another vacancy. The governor also would appoint a new DA, while the circuit's judges would replace the magistrate.
In either of those cases, current associate magistrate and former assistant district attorney Bobby Christine is the obvious favorite.
The key to all of these? Bill Jackson. The state senator is a close ally of the governor, and will have tremendous input on selection of the new judge.
None of this was expected to be an issue until next year, with Wheale's departure. Dickert's resignation has fast-forwarded the process a little, and we'll get a replay in 2008.
Election fight, too
Also coming in 2008 will be another fight over the 10th District U.S. House seat. Paul Broun, winner of this summer's special election to fill the term of the late Charlie Norwood, already has challengers.
State Rep. Barry Fleming is gearing up to run against Broun in the Republican primary, and Athens resident and Iraq war veteran Bobby Saxon this weekend was announcing his plan to run as a Democrat.
Just as Neal Dickert's departure could create a domino effect of additional vacancies, so will Fleming's. If Fleming doesn't run for re-election to the House, Lee Anderson might seek the office, thus opening up his seat on the County Commission.
Permit me to make the entirely trivial point that this process often is referred to as "Musical Chairs." The traditional song for that children's game is Pop! Goes the Weasel, which I'm sure that is no reflection on politicians in general.
Meanwhile, Broun is coming to Grovetown Thursday for a city hall meet-and-greet session at 6:30 p.m. He'll later hobnob during a members-only event with the Grovetown Merchants Association.
A correction: My column last week said Harlem singer Mallorie Jones is the daughter of Ludy Jones, a fellow classmate in the Harlem High class of 1979.
Actually, he's her uncle. Her proud parents are Darrell and Cynthia Jones.
Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to barry.paschal newstimesonline.com.
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