Law Professor Kent Barnett asked six questions of each of the four candidates seeking to be elected as a Superior Court Judge for the Western Judicial Circuit at the candidate forum held at the University of Georgia Law Library late last month.
The first two of the questions seemed like they could have been taken from a law school quiz, and the remaining four dealt with administrative issues the two winners of the May 22 nonpartisan general election are likely to deal with on the bench.
At the end of the 90-minute session, Barnett asked each of the candidates to make closing comments and tell the audience why she or he should be elected.
In responding to that request, the candidates showed differences in temperament, style and approach to the election that may help voters without legal training decide who they want to hold two of the four Superior Court judgeships in the Circuit made up of Oconee and Clarke counties.
Turnout has been light so far in Oconee County, with only 412 of the county's 28,284 registered voters having cast a ballot in the first four days of early voting, which started on Monday.
After a handoff from Ben Makin, a Clarke County Magistrate Court judge and Western Circuit Bar Association president, Barnett asked each of the candidates to make a short introduction.
The Western Circuit Bar Association organized the April 24 forum, held in the Hatton Lovejoy Courtroom at the University of Georgia Law School. The event was open to the public.
Regina Quick, the first to respond, had been an attorney with a general trial practice in Athens from 1987 until October of last year, when Gov. Nathan Deal appointed her to fill the unexpired term of retiring Judge David Sweat.
Since her appointment, Quick said, she has been concentrating on family law and criminal accountability issues within the Court and would like to continue that work if she is elected to the judgeship on May 22.
Lisa Lott, who lives in Athens-Clarke County and is challenging Quick, has been a public defender in the Western Circuit for the last 18 years. She said her qualifications also include the practice of criminal law as a prosecutor and work in private practice in family law.
Lott said it is important that local judges “be grounded in the community in which they serve” and that she has been involved with a number of local organizations in the community and with the Parent Teacher Association in Clarke County schools.
Allison Mauldin, who is running against incumbent Eric Norris, also lives in Athens-Clarke County, though she is currently serving as chief assistant district attorney in Greene County in the Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit.
Mauldin also noted her ties to the Athens-Clarke County community and said a Superior Court judge should have significant trial experience and that she brings experience in trying more than 200 jury trials in her 29 years as an attorney.
Norris, appointed by Gov. Deal in 2016 to a newly created judgeship in the Western Judicial Circuit, said he was born in Athens-Clarke County, moved to Oconee County when he was 11, and finished his schooling there.
Norris said his work as an attorney, as an Oconee County Magistrate Court judge and as a Superior Court judge have allowed him to demonstrate that he has experience, knowledge and the “temperament” to continue to serve as Superior Court judge.
Closing Comments Mauldin And Norris
Barnett told the candidates in setting up the closing comments that each should indicate “why should we vote for you.”
In the rotation, it was Mauldin’s turn to go first, and she said she was an outsider who has not worked in the Circuit and could bring in new ideas.
“We don’t have to operate like the status quo,” she said. “So I bring experience from outside this Circuit.”
She also said she would not handle a Clarke County case in Oconee County or an Oconee County case in Clarke County “unless there is consent of both of the parties.”
Cases from Athens-Clarke County are being held in Oconee County at present to expedite proceedings, she said, “and that demonstrates a lack of understanding and sensitivity for the people here in Athens.”
Norris didn’t respond to that issue directly, but he focused instead on his experience, contrasting that with Mauldin’s experience.
“Ms. Mauldin has done prosecution, and that’s a very important role in our legal system,” he said. “But it is only one part. And I will tell you that I bring a broad sense of understanding and experience to the bench—right now.”
“It’s not something I have to start,” Norris said. “I have been doing that, and I’ve been working, practicing and serving as a judge in the Circuit for now 22 years.”
“I have lived in both counties. I’ve gone to school in both counties. My family is involved in both counties,” he said. “This is the home that raised me, mentored me, guided me.”
Closing Comments Quick And Lott
In her opening comments, Lott had she was motivated to run for the judge position because “for too long, Atlanta has dominated decisions of who gets to serve as a judge in our community.”
It was a direct reference to the appointment of Quick and Norris by Gov. Deal, who is a Republican.
“I’ve grown a little weary of the mantra ‘Atlanta dominates these decisions,’” Quick said in her closing comments. “Because the process that we go through in the appointment process is a rigorous process.”
“What I would say about this race and the comparison and contrasting that you need to do between myself and my opponent is that you need to do that kind of analysis about the qualifications of the candidates,” Quick said.
Quick said that while Lott has criticized the process, she also has participated in it—but without success.
“Do your homework, do your research, and vote your conscience," Quick said.
Lott had the final word, and she said “I feel very strongly that we as a community, as citizens of Clarke and Oconee county, as concerned and active residents, have the right to exercise our power of local control. And that we should have the right and the opportunity to make our own decisions about who serves.”
“I’ve been a public servant in our community for the last 18 years,” she said. “I have been a public servant for most of my 24-year legal career. I’ve had my feet on the ground, working in this community for those less fortunate.
“I’ve been involved in this community as a volunteer, as a concerned citizen, and as a parent. I know what makes this community tick. That is perspective, which I believe is an essential characteristic for a fair and impartial judge.”
Other Questions and Video
Western Circuit Bar Association President Makin said that the questions Professor Barnett asked were ones Barnett had selected as well as questions from the audience.
Because there are many topics judges and candidates cannot ethically discuss, the audience questions were screened by Barnett, Makin said.
Barnett used a baseball analogy in is first question and asked the candidates if a judge merely “calls balls and strikes” or also decide the “strike zone.”
In the video below of the session, responses to that question are at 17:07.
Barnett asked the candidates what a judge should do in deciding an issue without a clear answer. Responses are at 24:04 in the video.
Responses to a question about the judge’s responsibility in supporting public defenders are at 33:00 in the video.
A question about sentencing produced the responses at 45:40 in the video.
Barnett asked about the role of the judge when someone tries to represent herself or himself before the court. The answers are at 58:14.
Responses to a question about the state of the courtrooms in the two counties are at 1:10:22. (All candidates said more space is needed.)
Closing comments are at 1:17:43 in the video.
I could not attend the session because of a medical appointment.
Sarah Bell attended the forum and made the video recording below.