Names of 9 nominees to replace Judge Ott on the bench released

by Tom Spigolon for The Covington News

Alcovy Circuit Court Supreme Court Judge John Ott. Contributed photo

The probate and magistrate courts, district attorney’s offices and legal community in Newton and Walton counties are well-represented on the list of nominees to replace Chief Judge John Ott on the Superior Court bench.

Georgia’s Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC) released the names of nine nominees to replace Ott, including the Newton County Probate and Magistrate judge and associate judge; the Alcovy Judicial Circuit’s district attorney and his chief assistant DA for Walton County; a Walton County associate Magistrate judge; and four attorneys from both counties.

The vacancy will be created when Ott retires Dec. 31 after 32 years on the Superior Court bench in the Alcovy Judicial Circuit, which includes Newton and Walton counties.

Nominees include Newton County Probate and Magistrate Judge Melanie Bell, who was elected in 2020 to her second term leading the Probate Court and District Attorney Randy McGinley, a Walton County resident in his first term as DA for both counties.

Others are Destiny H. Bryant, who is associate probate and magistrate judge for Newton County; G. Kevin Morris, who is associate magistrate judge for Walton County; and W. Cliff Howard, who is chief assistant district attorney for Walton County.

Nominated attorneys include Jennifer Arndt and Bryan H. Frost, both of Covington, and Anne T. LaMalva and Michael R. Malcom, both of Monroe.

Nominees are not required to accept the nomination. However, the JNC is in the process of interviewing the nominees who wish to be considered for the judgeship.

It typically selects three finalists it will recommend to the governor, who is required to make the final appointment, said JNC chairman Vincent Russo.

The governor typically makes his choice from the recommended finalists, though he also can reject the JNC’s recommendations and ask it to recommend a different set of names. He also can reject the recommended finalists altogether and appoint someone not on the list, Russo said.

This will be the third Superior Court judge the governor will appoint in three years for the Alcovy Judicial Circuit.

Gov. Brian Kemp appointed former DA Layla Zon in April 2020 to replace Judge Samuel Ozburn when Ozburn chose not to complete his final term after announcing his retirement.

The governor also appointed former Henry County assistant DA Cheveda McCamy as a judge to replace Horace Johnson Jr. after Johnson died of a COVID-related medical condition in July 2020.

Some names not included on the list of nominees that may surprise some Newton County voters include Covington attorneys Stephanie Lindsey, who challenged Ott for his judge’s seat in 2012, and Robert Stansfield, who lost to Jeff Foster in a 2020 runoff for another Superior Court judgeship.

Superior Courts in Georgia have exclusive, constitutional authority over felonies, divorces, equity cases and matters regarding title to land.

According to the Georgia Constitution, the governor will appoint Ott’s successor to serve until the next election for the judgeship in 2024.

Judges are elected on a nonpartisan basis. Ott was most recently re-elected in 2020 without opposition and his current term was to end in December 2024.

If appointed as a senior judge as expected, Ott may hear cases in any judicial circuit at the request of a local judge, administrative judge or the governor, he said.

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