Originally created 05/16/03

Debate starts on new judge



The news of Superior Court Judge Robert L. Allgood's pending resignation has the legal community abuzz with speculation about who might ask the governor to appoint him, or her, to the bench.

A judicial appointment always stirs interest, but this time the appointment will be made by Georgia's first Republican governor since Reconstruction.

It will also be Gov. Sonny Perdue's first judicial nomination.

"I don't think you have to be Republican to be considered," said state Rep. Barry Fleming, R-Harlem, who is also an attorney. He said he expects the governor to seek out conservative qualities in candidates.

After more than 100 years of watching Democratic governors make appointments, Republicans are anxious to see appointments made by a member of their party, Mr. Fleming said.

"There's definitely the feeling in Republican circles that there has been a lack of balance (between Republicans and Democrats) in appointments," he said.

Possible candidates with ties to both parties say Mr. Perdue will aim to select the best candidate to fill the seat on the Augusta Judicial Circuit, made up of Richmond, Columbia and Burke Counties. Judge Allgood's resignation becomes effective July 1.

Among the possible contenders, in alphabetical order:

  • Danny Craig, 47, who is the district attorney for the Augusta Judicial Circuit, said he plans to submit his name for consideration. "I think I have prepared myself for this position, and it's a natural progression of service to the people in our community," Mr. Craig said.
  • Mr. Craig, a Democrat, has practiced law since 1979 and has served as district attorney since 1992, winning re-election every four years without opposition.

  • Ben Jackson, 47, said he has had several calls from peers and friends encouraging him to submit his name for nomination. "I would be glad to get into the mix," he said.
  • Mr. Jackson, a Republican who has practiced law in Georgia since 1985 and in South Carolina since 1995, worked for three years in the district attorney's office before starting private practice. He estimates that 75 percent of his cases are in domestic court.

  • Sheryl Jolly, 43, is the solicitor for Richmond County State Court, a position the Democrat first won in a contested election in 1996. "I am certainly considering being a part of the application process," said Ms. Jolly, who has been encouraged to put her name in. "I would consider it an honor."
  • Ms. Jolly - who has been involved in child advocacy, Safe Homes and the domestic violence task force - worked for the district attorney's office for three years before moving to the solicitor's office in 1989.

  • J. Wade Padgett, 38, said he thinks he will seek the nomination and is hopeful his experience on both sides of many legal issues will enable him to fulfill a lifetime dream of becoming a judge.
  • Mr. Padgett, a Republican who estimated that 50 percent of his practice is in domestic court, has practiced law since 1990 and spent three years in the district attorney's office. He has served as the associate magistrate for Columbia County for nine years.

  • William "Bill" Sams, 63, gives 50-50, perhaps better, odds that he will seek the nomination. "I've been asked to," said Mr. Sams, adding that his final decision depends on how much support he receives.
  • Mr. Sams, who has practiced law since 1963, has specialized in family law for 20 years and served as the chairman of the family law section of the State Bar of Georgia. A longtime Republican, Mr. Sams served in the Georgia Senate for two terms.

    SEAT SEEKERS

    People who say they will or may seek judgeship: District Attorney Danny Craig; Attorney Benjamin A. Jackson; Richmond County State Court Solicitor Sheryl B. Jolly; Columbia County Associate Magistrate and private attorney J. Wade Padgett; and attorney William H. Sams Jr.

    Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226 or shodson@augustachronicle.com.