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Senator wants justice to stay away from ceremony

CONYERS - State Sen. John Douglas, R-Social Circle, has sent a letter to Georgia Supreme Court Justice Robert Benham urging him not to officiate at the swearing-in ceremony for new executive officers with the Rockdale County Democratic Party.

Benham, the first black to serve on the state Supreme Court, accepted an invitation to swear in new Democratic Party Chairwoman Ruth Wilson and other officers at a ceremony on Nov. 10.

Supreme Court justices run in nonpartisan elections, and according to Douglas, Benham's participation in the Democratic Party event is inappropriate.

"I think this is not the type of situation a Supreme Court justice should put himself into," Douglas said. "It's purely partisan. The Democratic Party, just like the Republican Party, has the goal of electing Democrats or Republicans to office. Having a judge or justice swear in an office holder who has received a majority of votes from the county or city is a completely different situation, I would think."

In a letter dated Oct. 30, Douglas asked the justice to reconsider his visit.

"Coming to Rockdale for this particular purpose puts you in a partisan position and gives citizens who are not part of the Democratic Party the idea that you may favor Democrats over Republicans," the letter states. "Because no member of the judiciary is required to swear in Republican Chairs, I assume the same is true for our friends in the other party. However, if such a requirement does exist, I am confident there are local members of the bench who could perform the task in superb fashion."

Ruth Wilson, set to be sworn in as the party's new chairwoman, said she had not seen the letter, but disagrees with Douglas' position.

"This is not the first time a member of the judiciary has conducted a swearing-in ceremony in Rockdale County, and that didn't result in any sense that the individual could no longer perform his duties in a fair and balanced manner," Wilson said, adding that Rockdale County Magistrate Judge Garland C. Moore officiated at the last swearing-in.

"I believe that if Justice Benham has the time and is given enough notice, he would be willing to do the same thing for Sen. Douglas and his party, so I don't see this as a partisan issue," she added.

Benham was not in the office Thursday and could not be reached for comment.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.