ATLANTA — Presiding Justice George Carley will leave the Georgia Supreme Court in July 2012, handing Gov. Nathan Deal a chance to make his first pick for the state’s highest court.
The 73-year-old Carley said Tuesday he will step down July 17, after all cases from the court’s January term have been decided.
The timing of Carley’s retirement will allow his successor to be appointed by Deal, a Republican, and serve a full two years before facing an election in 2014.
The 2012 election for the Supreme Court will be held on the July 31 primary and candidates must qualify by May 25 to run.
“I am announcing this now to notify potential candidates before the election cycle gets into full swing,” Carley said in a statement released by the court.
Under state law, judges cannot collect their pensions if they stay on the bench after they turn 75. Carley will be 74 when his term ends next year.
There had been speculation that he would retire after serving out his full term, creating the possibility of a rare open seat on the court. The last election for an open state Supreme Court seat was nearly three decades ago, in 1982, when Richard Bell, a DeKalb County judge, defeated attorney Jack Dorsey in a runoff.
Lawyers Scott Bonder, of Atlanta, and Tammy Adkins, of Lawrenceville, had already announced they would run next year for what they believed would be an open seat. Others in the legal community had also been considering the race.
A former judge with the state Court of Appeals, Carley was appointed to the Georgia Supreme Court in 1993 by then Gov. Zell Miller, a Democrat. He was elected to three six-year terms.
When he steps down, Carley will leave the high court as chief justice. Last month, the court voted unanimously to have him serve as the leader of Georgia’s judicial system for two months before he leaves.
A judge for 32 years, Carley said Tuesday he had, “loved every minute I have served.”
Three other Georgia Supreme Court justices are up for re-election: Chief Justice Carol Hunstein and well as Justices Hugh Tompson and Harold Melton.