Big changes coming to Alcovy Judicial Circuit in 2021 as 3 judges, DA won’t seek reelection

After a decade with no changes in the Alcovy Judicial Circuit court system that serves both Walton and Newton counties, there will be quite a big difference come January 2021. Three of the Superior Court judges will not be seeking reelection for their current positions as well as District Attorney Layla Zon, who will instead be running to replace one of them.

Zon announced she will be seeking to replace Judge Samuel D. Ozburn who announced he will be retiring at the end of 2020 after serving on the bench since his initial appointment in 1995 by Georgia Gov. Zell Miller. Judge Eugene M. Benton also announced he would not seek reelection and Monroe attorney and current Social Circle Municipal Judge Jeffrey Foster has announced his candidacy for Benton’s seat on the bench. Benton has served on the Alcovy Circuit Superior Court since his election in 2004 to replace Judge Marvin Sorrells.

The third judge not seeking reelection is Superior Court Judge Horace Johnson, Jr. who has served in the Alcovy Judicial Circuit Superior Court since his appointment by Gov. Roy Barnes in 2002. Johnson confirmed that he would not be seeking reelection in 2020 and said he would soon be announcing his future plans.

“I’m just finalizing the details. Look for an announcement next week,” Johnson said.

Johnson has served on the Alcovy Judicial Circuit Superior Court since he was appointed by Gov. Roy Barnes in 2002 and was elected unopposed in subsequent elections. He received his B.B.A. from Emory University and his J.D. from the University of Georgia. He practiced as a private attorney from 1982 until his appointment to the Alcovy Judicial Circuit in 2002.

The seats for all five of the Superior Court judges, which include the ones held by Chief Judge John M. Ott and W. Kendall Wynne, Jr., are on the ballot in the non-partisan elections on May 19, 2020 to fill the terms that expire at the end of that year. Both Wynne and Ott have confirmed that they will be seeking reelection in 2020.

Ott is the chief judge of the Alcovy Judicial Circuit Superior Court and has served on the bench since 1990 when he was appointed by Gov. Joe Frank Harris. He managed to hold off a challenge from Newton County attorney Stephanie R. Lindsey in 2012 to retain his seat on the bench. In 1976, Ott received his B.A. in English from the University of Georgia. He received his J.D. degree from the Walter F. George School of Law five years later in 1981.

Wynne is the most recent judge to serve on the Alcovy Circuit Court after his appointment by Gov. Sonny Perdue in December 2009 to take office on July 1, 2010. Prior to his appointment, Wynne was the District Attorney for the Alcovy Judicial Circuit. Since then he has been elected unopposed. He earned an undergraduate degree in political science from the University of Georgia in 1984 and graduated from UGA with a J.D. in 1987. He went on to graduate with a J.D. from the University of Georgia School of Law in 1987. He worked briefly as an attorney with the Atlanta law firm of Harmon, Smith and Bridges before joining the Alcovy Judicial Circuit as an assistant district attorney in 1988.

Alcovy Judicial Circuit District Attorney Layla Zon will be seeking to replace Superior Court Judge Samuel Ozburn. Contributed photo

If elected to Ozburn’s seat, Zon would be making history in the Alcovy Judicial Circuit Court for a second time. She was the first female district attorney in the system when she took office in 2010 after being appointed by Gov. Sonny Perdue and she would be the first female Superior Court Judge in the Alcovy Judicial Circuit in 2021.

“For the past nine years as District Attorney, I have hired and trained dozens of prosecutors, run both the Newton and Walton County District Attorney’s offices, and continued to try cases in both counties including four death penalty trials.  In my career as a prosecutor, I have tried over 150 jury trials almost exclusively as lead or sole counsel. Just in the past year and a half I have tried and convicted two high profile murder cases and a Human Trafficking case. I have argued in front of the Georgia Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court of Georgia. I have served as an instructor for continuing legal education programs in the areas of Child Sexual Abuse Cases and Death Penalty Litigation. I have successfully run unopposed for one special term and two full terms as District Attorney,” Zon said when making her formal announcement, concluding with, “Now I am seeking a  very different and very important office in the Alcovy Judicial Circuit. As a judge I will no longer be an advocate; I will be independent, impartial, and fair.  I pledge to interpret and apply the laws that govern us. I will strive to enhance and maintain confidence in our legal system by respecting and honoring the judicial office as a public trust.”

Randy McGinley will be running for Alcovy Judicial Circuit District Attorney in May 2020. Contributed photo

Zon said she would be leaving the District Attorney’s Office in the capable hands of her chief assistant district attorney, Randy McGinley who was sworn in to that position on Jan. 11, 2017. McGinley has announced he will be seeking the position of district attorney in the May 2020 elections. McGinley was hired in 2011 as an ADA and since then served as a prosecutor in both Walton and Newton counties.

“I currently serve as the Chief Assistant District Attorney for the Alcovy Judicial Circuit, which covers both Newton and Walton Counties. District Attorney Zon appointed me to this position in January 2017 upon Judge Melanie Bell taking office as the Newton County Probate and Chief Magistrate Judge. In that position, I have prosecuted some of the most violent, complex, and high profile cases in both Newton and Walton Counties, including murders, crimes against women and children, and complex racketeering matters. Additionally, my duties as Chief Assistant include assisting the District Attorney in the day to day management of an office that includes over 20 attorneys and almost 60 total employees between two counties,” McGinley said in his official announcement, concluding with, “If elected as the District Attorney of the Alcovy Circuit, I will continue to help make the communities in our circuit safe and to provide justice to the victims of crimes. Our Office will continue to work with local law enforcement to ensure that violent and sexual criminals are aggressively prosecuted to the fullest extent. Additionally, I will continue the work the Office has done over the years in helping grow our Pre-Trial Diversion Program as well as the Circuit’s Drug, Resource (Mental Health), and Veterans Courts. Those programs help those struggling with drug and mental health problems in a way that also saves the community money. I will strive to have an office that is both effective and efficient. I will ensure that our offices are good stewards of your tax dollars. I want to continue to implement and utilize new technologies to make our office more efficient and allow us to also save taxpayers’ dollars.” 

In making the announcement of his intention to seek Benton’s seat, Foster noted that he worked in the Alcovy Judicial Circuit court first as a law clerk for Ott before joining the District Attorney’s office in 1995. He was appointed chief assistant district attorney for Wynne while Wynne was still the district attorney. In 2003, Foster joined with Marcy Hanks and founded the private law firm of Foster & Hanks, LLC, now known as Foster, Hanks & Ballard, LLC.

Attorney Jeffrey Foster will be seeking to replace Superior Court Judge Eugene M. Benton in the May 2020 Election. Contributed photo

“I have defended numerous criminal cases, handled complex estate matters, dealt with an array of domestic relations cases, and have litigated numerous other civil matters throughout the state and federal courts of Georgia, as well as the appellate courts. Currently, I also serve as the Judge of the Municipal Court of Social Circle. I have served in various public service capacities while maintaining a law practice, such as Solicitor of the courts of the cities of Loganville and Social Circle, Judge of the Municipal Courts of Monroe and Social Circle, and Associate Magistrate for Walton County. In addition to maintaining a caseload, and presiding over Municipal Court, I currently serve as the firm manager, handling all administrative, human resources, and financial issues for  Foster, Hanks & Ballard, LLC,” Foster said in his announcement, concluding with, “I would be honored to fill the seat of the retiring Judge Benton, and would like the opportunity to bring my diversity of experience, my love of the law and the courtroom, and ability to understand people facing difficult and stressful situations to the bench as Judge of the Superior Court for Walton and Newton Counties.”

To find out more about the candidates for Superior Court judgeships and district attorney and their full announcements, click or tap on the links below.

Facebook page for Layla Zon for Superior Court Judge

Facebook page for Jeffrey Foster for Superior Court Judge

Facebook page for Randy McGinley for District Attorney

 (Editor’s Note: Information on Alcovy Judicial Circuit judges obtained from Ballotedia.)

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