A local attorney who has been in private practice for more than 30 years and a longtime State Court judge were appointed Superior Court judges Monday by Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal.
Ron Mullins, a partner in Page, Scrantom, Sprouse, Tucker & Ford, P.C., and State Court Judge Maureen C. Gottfried were appointed to the Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit bench, the governor’s office confirmed.
Also a finalist, Solicitor General Benjamin S. Richardson was appointed to the State Court judgeship vacated by Gottfried. The governor’s office did not immediately announce a replacement for Richardson.
The five finalists from 22 applicants were interviewed by Deal last Wednesday in Atlanta. District Attorney Julia Slater and Chief Assistant District Attorney Alonza Whitaker were among the finalists.
The appointment comes amid a call from former Judge John Allen, who spent two decades as a Muscogee County Superior Court judge before retiring in October, for Deal to consider gender and racial diversity in his selections. Allen was the lone black Superior Court judge in the circuit that included no women judges.
Gottfried will be the first woman on the Superior Court bench since Roxanne Daniel was defeated by Bobby Peters in 2004. Mullins is a white male. Richardson is black.
Allen, now a senior judge, had praise for all three appointments.
“Judge Gottfried is imminently qualified to be Superior Court judge, and the gender diversity is a much-needed addition,” Allen said. “Ben Richardson is eminently qualified to be Superior Court judge and State Court judge. Ron Mullins is a highly experienced lawyer with impeccable character and excellent temperament.”
Diversity on the bench is important for public perception, but it is more important to be able to do the job, Gottfried said.
“The public does see the bench, and how it is made up,” Gottfried said. “I don’t think that should ever be the deciding factor. I think the deciding factor should be if you are qualified. The people on the bench should be qualified.”
Gottfried and Richardson both have taken well-worn paths to the State and Superior court benches. A number of recent Superior Court judges, including Allen, moved up from State Court. State Court Judge Andy Prather, Gottfried, former Superior Court Judge Daniel and retired Superior Court Judge Kenneth Followill came out of the solicitor general’s office.
Richardson said he believes the governor put some weight on Allen’s request for diversity.
“I think he took into account qualified applicants who were members of those groups,” Richardson said. “You now have an African American judge in State Court, and you didn’t before. But I don’t want the community to feel Judge Gottfried and I got the appointments because of race and gender. I think both of us will do a great job for this community.”
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. Mullins will be taking the seat vacated by Allen, and Gottfried will be filling the new judgeship.
Mullins said he was humbled by his selection and it was an honor to be selected for Allen’s spot.
“I have the highest regard possible for Judge Allen, both individually and as a jurist,” Mullins said. “I litigated against him before he went on the bench, and I was always pleased to go into his courtroom. I will try and treat people that way.”
Mullins, 62, has made the Judicial Nominating Commission short list submitted to the governor five times, dating back to 2000 when Judge Frank Jordan was appointed. A Harris County native, Mullins has practiced primarily civil law during his career.
He becomes the second judge in his family. His sister, Martha Hartley, is probate judge of Harris County.
Mullins said he was not sure when he would be sworn in.
“Shutting down this practice as well as getting geared up to assume the bench, I will be talking at length with other judges and seeking their advice,” Mullins said.
Gottfried, 52, has made the short list three times before, but was not included a year ago when Deal appointed Judge Art Smith. She has been a State Court judge for 18 years. Gottfried, solicitor general prior to getting on the State Court bench, had the most judicial experience on the list. Gottfried said she is excited about the new challenge.
“I have a great job where I am now,” she said. “But this is considered a step up. For me, it presents new challenges. I will be handling different kinds of cases. I am excited to finally get here.”
Richardson, 47, has been the solicitor general since 2003 and has worked in the office, which prosecutes State Court cases, since 1994. Gottfried applauds the hiring of Richardson, who prosecutes cases in State Court.
“I hired Ben to come to the solicitor’s office when I took over in 1994,” she said. “I saw great potential in him back then, and I think he will do a great job as a judge.”