5th judge seat up for grabs
Nominations sought for spot on Superior Court

COVINGTON - The Judicial Nominating Commission has begun seeking nominations for a fifth Superior Court judge in the Alcovy Judicial Circuit, which includes Newton and Walton counties.

The commission will cull the pool of nominees to a short list and then submit those names to Gov. Sonny Perdue, who will make the appointment.

To be considered, candidates must be at least 30 years old, be a resident of the jurisdiction in which they will preside, be a resident of Georgia for at least three years and have practiced law for at least seven years.

A spokesman with the governor's office said there is no established deadline to make the appointment.

The fifth judgeship was approved by the Georgia General Assembly in 2008, with funding appropriated in 2009.

A total of $236,905 has been appropriated, which includes the judge's salary and benefits, a secretary's salary and benefits, and setup costs to cover office furniture and equipment.

By law, assistant district attorney and assistant public defender positions must be created for each judgeship as well.

The new judge will work out of both Newton and Walton counties but will be based in Newton.

State Sen. John Douglas said he anticipates the next judge will be a resident of Newton County, in keeping with the traditional rotation between the two counties - the last judge appointed, Eugene Benton, is from Walton County.

"We've got a lot of quality people in Newton County that could take this position," Douglas said.

Given the heavy caseload current judges are carrying, the legislature had the options of adding a judge or splitting the circuit.

Superior Court Judge Samuel D. Ozburn previously told the Citizen that, "We just have such a tremendous caseload as far as the number of cases per judge, civil and criminal. It's really mind boggling sometimes. When I talk to judges around the state, the caseload is so much higher than about anyone's in the state, but through case management and hard work, we're trying to keep our heads above water."

The appointee would serve through 2010 and could run for election in November of that year, for a four-year term beginning January 2011.

County commissioners recently approved a $72,373.72 contract with Sunbelt Builders to remodel the third floor of the Newton County Judicial Center to make room for the new judge, a paralegal and law clerk.

The new offices will take up the current grand jury room and will link to the other judge's chambers.

Construction is expected to take three months.