2014-03-12 / Front Page

Stone goes for judgeship after all

By Roy F. Chalker Jr.
and Elizabeth Billips

It’s complicated.

State Senator Jesse Stone wants to be Burke County’s next State Court judge.

Most everyone who knows him believes he’d make a good one.

His timing, however, has left many people scratching their heads.

To back up a bit, the judgeship in question opened in late January with the death of the Honorable Jerry Daniel.

The Georgia Judicial Nominating Commission will put together a short list of qualified attorneys who are interested in the position. In the upcoming months, Gov. Nathan Deal will select a judge from that list.

Up until late last week, the only interest was formally expressed by Burke County Solicitor General Jackson Cox ... who happens to share his law office with Sen. Stone.

Rumors that Stone was also interested began circulating around the Burke County Courthouse several weeks ago -- but that information didn’t hit the media until last Tuesday when Augusta radio talk show host Austin Rhodes posted it on his Facebook page.

In an interview with a Peach Pundit reporter, Stone denied the claims and released a formal statement that said he is seeking reelection into the Senate. In fact, the Republican had qualified for his District 23 seat on the opening day.

But around 8:30 p.m. Friday, the same day qualifying closed, Stone announced on his Facebook page that he did, indeed, want to be State Court judge and was applying for the position.

That’s how Cox, who didn’t qualify for his Solicitor-General post, found out – as did many local and state officials.

While Stone’s flip-flop did not affect Cox’s decision not to qualify, the implications could be far-reaching all the way from state to local politics.


Feb. 24: Gov. Deal extends nomination deadline for Burke County Judge from Feb. 21 to March 14. He said this was to “permit time for more nominations in the interest of diversity.”

March 3: Qualifying for state and county offices begins. Stone qualifies for District 23 Senate seat.

March 5: Austin Rhodes posts this on his Facebook page: “I have reports that GA State Senator Jesse Stone will soon vacate his office … likely to accept a State Court Judge appointment.”

March 6: Stone tells Peach Pundit that rumors are untrue and forwards a press release which is posted on their website (see below).

March 7: Qualifying closes at noon. Around 8:30 p.m.. Stone announces on Facebook that he does want the judgeship (see below).

March 8: Peach Pundit reporter “predicts” Stone’s 180- degree turn was prompted by a deal from the Governor – namely, that in return for the judgeship Stone would sponsor a substitute that would soften the proposed concealed weapon bill. Peach Pundit also speculated that the voters would never get a say-so on who takes Stone’s place on Senatorial ballot. Their take? The GOP executive committee has a candidate in the wings … after Stone is appointed judge, a new Republican candidate will be appointed.

March 10: Sen. Stone told The True Citizen that he sponsored the substitute simply because he was opposed to the original bill. No “deal” was involved.

Stone’s press release -Thursday, March 6

“Atlanta, Georgia

State Senator Jesse Stone is running for re-election to District 23, which includes 11 counties in East Georgia. Rumors that Senator Stone had accepted a judgeship were incorrect. A surprised Stone confirmed that he had not applied for or been offered the position. Stone qualified to keep his seat in the State Senate on Monday.”

Stone’s Facebook post - Friday, March 7

“After prayerful consideration and consulting with my family and supporters, I decided today to apply for the position of State Court Judge in Burke County. This judgeship was vacant because of the untimely passing of my mentor and lifelong friend, Judge Jerry Daniel. Judge Daniel had devoted the last 14 years of his life to creating accountability court divisions that tackle problems of domestic violence, alcoholism and drug abuse, and mental health issues. These are issues that I know firsthand from the experiences of life and over 30 years of the practice of law. Much of my work in the Senate has been to support our Governor’s efforts to deal with these issues through Criminal Justice Reform.

Earlier this week, rumors had circulated that I had already applied for and had been offered this judgeship. Although I had been asked to run and had in fact been nominated and encouraged by others, the rumors were untrue and premature, and so I issued a press release confirming that I had qualified to run for re-election to the State Senate. I am still in the Senate race and do not intend to resign unless I am appointed interim State Court Judge. There is a process of selection that must be followed. Regardless of the outcome of either the judgeship application or the Senate race, I remain committed to public service and appreciate the opportunity to serve.

If I am appointed Judge, there will be ample opportunity for other qualified candidates to enter the Senate race. Until that time, I will continue to carry out my duties in what has turned out to be a very busy legislative session.”

Answers to many questions, like these, remain unclear:

If Stone is appointed judge, who will be in the race for the District 23 Senate Seat?

Last week, Diane Evans qualified for the Democratic ballot but we don’t know which Republican will face her. When rumors of Stone’s interest in the judgeship first surfaced, so did interest in his Senate seat. However, when the senator announced the rumors were untrue, at least one Republican who had planned to qualify did not.

Right now, it is unclear whether there will be another qualifying period or whether a new Republican candidate will be appointed. With early voting beginning April 28, it appears unlikely that Republican voters will choose who represents their party in the General Election.

Will the new State Court judge finish Judge Daniel’s term?

That depends. If Gov. Deal makes his appointment by May 4, the new judge will be in office until the end of 2014 and would have to run for reelection in a Special Election Nov. 4. If the appointment is delayed, the new judge will be in office through 2016.

Can the State Court judge and General-Solicitor share a private law office?

If Stone is appointed judge, he will work with Solicitor-General Cox until the end of the 2014. It appears that the Code of Judicial Conduct would prohibit them from sharing an office.

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