Early retirements shake up local judicial races

By Thanksgiving 2019, it was obvious that after this election cycle there would be changes to the Alcovy Judicial Circuit court system that serves Walton and Newton Counties. However, it seemed pretty cut and dried the way it would go. With Superior Court Judges, Samuel D. Ozburn and Eugene M. Benton both announcing that they would be retiring on Dec. 31, 2020, at the end of their terms, and Superior Court Judge Horace Johnson, Jr. announcing that he would not be seeking re-election and would instead be running for the seat to be vacated by retiring Georgia Supreme Court Justice Robert Benham, candidates began lining up. 

Monroe Attorney Jeffrey Foster announced that he would be seeking the seat currently held by Benton and he was joined by Covington Attorney Bob Stansfield setting up the first race in the judicial elections. Alcovy Judicial Circuit District Attorney Layla Zon went on to announce her candidacy for Ozburn’s seat, leaving a vacancy for district attorney. Chief Assistant District Attorney Randy McGinley from Walton County immediately announced his intention to qualify to seek to replace Zon and fellow Alcovy Judicial Circuit Senior Assistant District Attorney from the Newton County office, Destiny Bryant, announced that she would be mounting a challenge for the same post. And finally, Covington attorney Cheveda McCamy announced that she would be mounting a campaign to replace Johnson for Superior Court Judge.

But everything changed late last month with the announcements by both Ozburn in the Alcovy Circuit and Benham on the Georgia Supreme Court that they wouldn’t be serving until the end of their terms. Benham will be retiring on March 1 and Ozburn at the end of April. 

In his letter to Gov. Brian Kemp announcing his early retirement, Ozburn requested that he be appointed as a senior judge of the Superior Court which would allow him to preside in Superior Courts if requested, including those in the Alcovy Judicial Circuit.

So the way this now works is the governor gets to appoint the replacements for both Ozburn and Benham, but it isn’t quite clear whether those appointments will last until 2022 in both cases, or if the governor’s appointments will be announced prior to the March 2 – 6 qualifying time. 

Johnson, who had three other challengers for Benham’s seat, announced that he will be submitting his credentials to the Judicial Nominating Committee for an appointment to Benham’s seat. The timing, however, makes it difficult.

“We do not know if the appointment decision will be made prior to qualifying. If the decision has not been made by qualifying, or if it is made and Judge Johnson is not selected, he will seek re-election,” Johnson’s campaign announced. And qualifying for a judgeship doesn’t come cheap – $5,373.36 for Supreme Court Justice, $3,873.70 for Superior Court Judge and $3,674.20 for district attorney.

In Ozburn’s case, Zon said she will submit her name to the nominating committee, but also intends to qualify should the appointees not be announced by the March 6 deadline. McGinley said he will likely do the same. Should Zon be appointed by the governor, her replacement for district attorney would be appointed by the governor as well.

So, as one candidate put it, “the situation is as clear as mud.”

Facebook page for Layla Zon for Superior Court Judge

Candidacy announcement for Robert Stansfield

Facebook page for Jeffrey Foster for Superior Court Judge

Facebook page for Randy McGinley for District Attorney

Candidacy announcement for Judge Horace Johnson

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