An interesting race is shaping up for the vacant Harris County probate judge’s seat.
Singer-songwriter and attorney Allen Levi and retired game warden Randy Hackley have qualified to fill the post that opened up when Judge Martha Hartley retired Aug. 4. Hartley was appointed by Superior Court Judge Gil McBride to stay on the job until a successor can be elected on Nov. 4.
Qualifying closed at noon Wednesday with just two candidates in the field.
Since the 1930s, the Harris County probate judge has been an attorney, though the law does not require it in smaller Georgia counties.
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Levi, 58, has undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Georgia and practiced in Columbus for 13 years before becoming a full-time singer-songwriter in 1996. When he left the law firm of Denney, Pease, Allison, Kirk and Lomax, he was primarily doing civil litigation and adoption work.
Hackley, 53, is currently working a security position in the federal courthouse in Columbus. He retired after nearly 30 years as a game warden for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, the last 17 of those years as a multi-county supervisor. He has an associate’s degree from Georgia Military College, a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Columbus State University and a master’s in public administration from Columbus State.
“I would not have even considered putting in for this position if I did not have the experience necessary to do the job,” Hackley said when asked if a law degree was necessary.
Levi said a law degree would come in handy with nuances of the job. In addition to probate matters that include wills and custody, the judge must handle traffic violations, which include driving under the influence.
“I think the probate judge’s job in a small county can be learned,” Levi said. “... More importantly to me, the position allows compassion to be exercised on a regular basis. As much as I think the law degree would be helpful, I am interested in helping people.”
Hackley, who lives in Cataula, said he got into the race after being urged to by a few friends.
“I have been in law enforcement and I have been in that court many, many times,” Hackley said. “Right now, I have the time, education and experience. I said, ‘Why not?’”
Levi, who lives on a family farm in Hamilton, spent the first 15 years of his full-time singing career traveling the country. He has been off the road for the last three years. Part of the reason he came off the road was to be with his brother, Gary, who died of cancer two years ago.
“I joked that my office used to be the Atlanta airport,” Levi said. “I have been spending more and more time in the community. And I am at a point where my music is less and less of my work life.”
Hartley timed her retirement so that Harris County will not have to hold a special election to fill her post. The remaining two years of her term will be filled during November’s general election. The seat will be back on the ballot in 2016. The qualifying fee is $1,591.