Judge Allen asks Gov. Deal to consider race and gender when appointing two new judges

chwilliams@ledger-enquirer.comSeptember 14, 2013 

    • District Attorney Julia Slater
    • Assistant District Attorney Wesley Lambertus
    • Chief Assistant District Attorney Alonza Whitaker
    • Assistant District Attorney LaRae Dixon Moore
    • Assistant District Attorney Sadhana Pandey Dailey
    • State Court Solicitor Ben Richardson
    • Ronald Mullins
    • Carter Page Schondelmayer
    • Donna S. Hix
    • Mark Wortham
    • Rachelle Denise Hunter
    • Rebecca Crowley
    • Raymond E. Tillery

    7 women and 6 men
    7 whites, 5 blacks and 1 of other descent.

Retiring Muscogee County Superior Court Judge John Allen has asked Gov. Nathan Deal to consider race and gender when he makes two local judicial appointments later this year.

"Unquestionably, judges are influenced in their notions of justice by their unique life experiences," Allen wrote in a Sept. 5 memo to the Georgia governor. "It would be a travesty to the population served if their justice is reflected only in terms of the 'white male' experience."

Allen is the only black judge in the local circuit.

Currently, there are six local Superior Court judges. When Allen, 70, retires on Oct. 31, all five of the remaining judges will be white males. Allen's memo to the governor comes as Deal prepares to appoint two new judges in the six-county Chattahoochee Circuit. The Georgia General Assembly recently added a seventh judge.

Superior Court judges are appointed in a two-step process. The Judicial Nominating Commission interviews prospective candidates, then creates a short list that is sent to the governor, who conducts his own interviews and makes the appointment.

"All appointments to the bench go through an extensive interview process with the Judicial Nominating Commission," Deal's office said in a statement after receiving Allen's memo. "The commission members are distinguished members of the legal profession from throughout the state, and they recommend to the governor the candidates they deem most qualified to serve the people in their jurisdiction. Diversity is one of many important considerations in these decisions."

The governor's office referred questions to commission co-chairman Pete Robinson, a Columbus resident and managing partner of the Atlanta office of Troutman Sanders LLP.

"I understand his thought process and I understand his feelings," Robinson said of Allen's memo. "I have known John for 30 years. I respect him as a friend and I respect him as a judge."

When Allen was sworn in, Robinson introduced then-Gov. Zell Miller at Allen's investiture.

"The Judicial Nominating Commission will listen to those sentiments because diversity is a consideration we take into account when making recommendations to the governor for qualified members of the judiciary," Robinson said Friday.

In the last three years, two judges have been appointed to the Chattahoochee bench. Then-Gov. Sonny Perdue appointed William Rumer in July 2010 to replace the late Robert Johnston, who retired amid a judicial misconduct investigation. In 2011, Deal appointed Art Smith to replace retiring Judge Doug Pullen, who also left in the middle of a judicial misconduct investigation.

"If the pattern of the two most recent appointments is continued in the two impending vacancies, the superior court bench of this circuit will be composed of seven white males," Allen wrote to Deal. "The demographics of this circuit are such that an all white male superior court bench would be egregiously unrepresentative of the population served."

Allen's memo to the governor outlines the racial and gender makeup of Muscogee, Harris, Taylor, Marion, Talbot and Chattahoochee counties.

There are more than 250,000 people in the circuit, which is 52 percent white and 41 percent black, according to the demographic breakdown Allen sent the governor. The circuit is 51 percent women and 49 percent men.

Allen said he had a couple of reasons for sending the memo to the governor.

"First, I want the committee in deliberation to be aware of the demographics of the circuit," Allen said. "I also believe that judges dispense justice based on their life experiences."

In his memo to the governor, Allen called it "the face of justice."

The Judicial Nominating Committee began taking nominations for the two judgeships this month. That nominating process closes Monday. Interviews with the commission will be conducted next month in Atlanta. There is no timetable for the governor to make his appointments once the commission makes its recommendations.

As of Friday, at least 13 attorneys had been nominated for the judgeships.

The list includes District Attorney Julia Slater, Assistant District Attorney Wesley Lambertus, Chief Assistant District Attorney Alonza Whitaker, Attorney Assistant District Attorney LaRae Dixon Moore, Assistant District Attorney Sadhana Pandey Dailey and State Court Solicitor Ben Richardson. Local attorneys Ronald Mullins, Carter Page Schondelmayer, Donna S. Hix, Mark Wortham, Rachelle Denise Hunter, Rebecca Crowley and Raymond E. Tillery have also been nominated.

The pool, as it stands one day before close of nominations, is diverse. There are seven women and six men, and seven whites, five blacks and one of other descent.

Five of the nominees are coming out of the district attorney's office. One, Mullins, has been on the short list of the last two appointments. Moore, who ran unsuccessfully against Art Smith last year, was on the list submitted to Deal in 2011.

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