The Georgia Judicial Nominating Commission on Tuesday submitted a diverse short list of candidates to Gov. Nathan Deal for two Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit Superior Court judgeships.
The list comes amid a call from former Judge John Allen, who spent two decades as a Muscogee County Superior Court judge before retiring last week, for Deal to consider gender and racial diversity in his selections.
The finalists from 22 applicants interviewed Monday in Atlanta are:
Maureen C. Gottfried — judge, State Court of Muscogee County.
Ron Mullins — partner, Page, Scrantom, Sprouse, Tucker & Ford, P.C.
Benjamin S. Richardson — solicitor general, Muscogee County.
Julia F. Slater — district attorney, Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit.
Alonza Whitaker — chief assistant district attorney, Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit.
Deal, a Republican, will interview the five candidates and make the final decision.
One vacancy was created by Allen’s departure. The other judgeship — the seventh in the six-county circuit — was created by the Georgia General Assembly. The new judgeship is not being funded by the state until Jan. 1. Deal will likely make the appointments before the end of the year.
Shortly after announcing his retirement in August, Allen wrote a memo to Deal asking the governor to consider diversity in his judicial choices.
Allen was the lone black judge on the bench. The remaining five Superior Court judges are all white men. The six-county Chattahoochee Circuit is more than 40 percent black and 51 percent women, as Allen pointed out in his memo.
The short list includes two women, Slater and Gottfried; two black men, Richardson and Whitaker; and one white man, Mullins.
Richardson, 47, has been the solicitor general since 2003 and has worked in the office, which prosecutes State Court cases, since 1994. He applauded the commission on “a very diverse list.”
Asked if the commission listened to Allen, Richardson said, “I don’t want to speak for them, but I think they were aware of it. I think they have a lot of respect for Judge Allen and that came across in my interview.”
Whitaker, Mullins and Gottfried have been on short lists before. Mullins, 62, has made the JNC short list submitted to the governor four times previously.
Asked if that was an advantage, Mullins responded, “That’s a crystal ball question that is hard to quantify. I hope to get a good result, but I am honored to be on the list submitted to the governor.”
This is the first time Slater, 47, has sought a judicial appointment.
“I am pleased with the way the interview went, and I am very excited and honored to be on the short list,” Slater said.
A Democrat who has not lost an election, Slater defeated Republican District Attorney Gray Conger in 2008. She won re-election a year ago. The district attorney runs in the same six counties — Muscogee, Harris, Chattahoochee, Talbot, Taylor and Meriwether — as the judges.
Slater said the commission asked her about running for the job, which the appointees will have to do in either 2014 or 2016 depending on when Deal makes his decision.
“I was given an opportunity to discuss what I consider to be my electability within the circuit,” Slater said.
Gottfried, 52, has made the short list three times before, but was not included a year ago when Deal appointed Judge Art Smith. As a State Court judge, Gottfried has been on the Muscogee County ballot five times, but only in 1996 did she face opposition. She also clearly has the most judicial experience on the list.
Slater, Gottfried, Richardson and Whitaker all have significant time working in the criminal justice system. Mullins has spent most of his career working on the civil side.
Gottfried applauded the short list.
“This is a good group of people with criminal experience, and Ron Mullins has a lot of civil experience,” Gottfried said. “These are people with good reputations in this community and would represent this court well.”
Whitaker, 58, could not be reached for comment.