Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal will soon appoint three new judges to the state’s appeals court, possibly adjusting the political bent of a body that’s been subject to an increased caseload as the state grows.
The Court of Appeals of Georgia is the second-highest ranking court in the state beneath the Georgia Supreme Court.
Its decisions almost always are the final word in a case, except for the small percentage of cases that move on to the Georgia Supreme Court.
“Murder cases, divorce cases, cases that deal with constitutionality of particular laws [go] directly to the Supreme Court,” said WABE legal analyst Page Pate.
All other appeals go the appeals court, and there are a lot of appeals in Georgia.
“Most cases that go to trial. There’s somebody that loses, and that somebody is likely to take their case up to the Georgia Court of Appeals,” said Pate.
U.S. Census Data show a 4.2 percent population growth in Georgia between 2010 and 2014, and Pate says that’s another reason the court’s caseload has jumped.
“Our court was one of the busiest courts, if not the busiest courts, in the country over the past few years. And we clearly need more judges so they can hear more cases,” said Pate.
Unlike the Georgia Supreme Court, which currently has seven judges, the court of appeals is currently made of 12 judges who hear cases in panels of three. The addition of three more judges could add another panel to the court, and allow rulings more quickly.
Judgeships are elected positions of six-year terms. The judges appointed by the governor will be required to run for their seats in 2018.
But Pate says sitting judges rarely lose their seats, and the governor’s choices could have a long-term effect on the court, “because the more judges he appoints than the more who will likely share his judicial philosophy.”
The governor’s office did not respond to request for comment for this story.
The following nominees were submitted to Gov. Deal by the Judicial Nominating Committee created by a law passed during the 2015 Georgia Legislative Session:
- Joe C. Bishop – Chief Superior Court Judge, Pataula Judicial Circuit
- Ural D. Glanville – Superior Court Judge, Atlanta Judicial Circuit
- Britt C. Grant – Solicitor General, Office of the Attorney General
- Stephen D. Kelley – Superior Court Judge, Brunswick Judicial Circuit
- Amanda D. Mercier – Superior Court Judge, Appalachian Judicial Circuit
- Nels S.D. Peterson – Vice Chancellor for Legal Affairs & Secretary to the Board of Regents, University System of Georgia
- Eric A. Richardson – State Court Judge, Fulton County
- Brian M. Rickman – District Attorney, Mountain Judicial Circuit
- Charles L. Ruffin – Shareholder and partner, Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, PC
- Lawton E. Stephens – Superior Court Judge, Western Judicial Circuit
- Gail S. Tusan – Superior Court Judge, Atlanta Judicial Circuit