Friday, the Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC) announced that fifteen applications were received from which Governor Brian Kemp may consider making an appointment to fill the recent vacancy announced on the Superior Court bench of the Augusta Judicial Circuit. That vacancy is being created by the early retirement of the Hon. Michael N. Annis.
Superior Court judges are usually elected to four-year terms in nonpartisan, circuit-wide races. However, the law provides that upon the early retirement of a judge, the Governor is able to appoint a replacement. To qualify as a Superior Court judge, a candidate must be at least 30 years old, a citizen of Georgia for at least three years, and have practiced law for at least seven years. That makes the pool from which applicants are drawn from the Augusta Judicial Circuit — a community with a few hundred lawyers in total — rather limited.
Following their respective nominations for the position, all fifteen candidates submitted an application to the JNC. The 20-member JNC will presumably interview all fifteen, and select a short list to submit to Governor Kemp for further interview and consideration. The Governor is not bound by the JNC’s selections, however. Whoever is ultimately appointed will have to run for election in 2022 to retain the seat.
Several apparently well-qualified lawyers are on the list, though some names were surprising to see. Others routinely appear on JNC application lists. Of the 15, five have previously thrown their hats in the ring for appointment to a judgeship. Mack Taylor is making his second attempt, and AU Attorney Laverne Lewis Gaskins, Pamela James Doumar and Sen. Jesse Stone are both on their third.
Richmond County Solicitor General Omeeka Loggins graduated from UGA in 2000 and obtained her Master’s degree from Troy University in 2002. In 2009, she graduated from the University of South Carolina School of Law. In January of 2016, Loggins was installed as the first African-American President of the Augusta Bar Association. She is currently serving as the Solicitor General for Richmond County.
Juvenile Court Judge Amanda Heath graduated from Mercer University School of Law and joined the State Bar of Georgia in 2010. After previously working as an assistant district attorney, in 2016 Heath became the first African-American appointed to the Augusta Judicial Circuit Juvenile Court.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Blanchard graduated from Augusta University in 2001 and Mercer University School of Law in 2007. He was in private practice until joining the United States Attorney’s Office in 2017.
Sonja Tate, attended UGA, where she received her undergraduate and law degrees in 1993 and 1996, respectively. She has been a defense lawyer with the law firm of Fulcher Hagler LLP since August of 1999, becoming a partner in 2004.
T. Mack Taylor hung his shingle in Columbia County 12 years ago. The attorney was the commissioner from Columbia County’s District 3 for half a year in 2015 before resigning to run for state Rep. Ben Harbin’s District 122 seat. Taylor lost the run off to ultimate winner Jodi Lott, who gathered over 75% of the vote. He was most recently appointed by Governor Kemp to serve on the State Judicial Nominating Commission, but resigned from that position last year in an unsuccessful bid for appointment to a vacancy on the Georgia Court of Appeals. According to his website, Mack began his legal career as a traffic prosecutor, and primarily practices in DUI, criminal defense, and personal injury law.
Alex Brown is a graduate of the Vermont Law School, and was admitted to the Georgia Bar in 2008. He opened his firm on Davis Road in 2012, and has deep roots in the area to be sure. According to his website, “Because his family has lived in the Augusta area since the Civil War era, he is very familiar with the local community, courts, judges and the law.”
John R.B. (‘Jack’) Long, not to be confused with his father, local attorney John B. (‘Jack’) Long, Graduated Georgia Tech in 2003 and Mercer University School of Law in 2006. Long knows his way around a courtroom, having handled nearly 100 cases before the Georgia Court of Appeals and Supreme Court of Georgia in addition to routinely trying civil, criminal, and domestic relations matters in state and federal courts. Some of his higher profile cases involved successfully challenging the practices of Sentinel Probation Services, which ultimately resulted in their departure from Richmond County. Long was previously elected President of the State Bar of Georgia YLD, an association of approximately 14,000 young lawyers in Georgia. He currently holds an elected seat on the Georgia Board of Governors for the State Bar of Georgia, and has previously held a number of positions within that organization.
Robert Homlar, is a 1999 graduate of Johns Hopkins University and 2002 grad of the University of South Carolina Law School, is in private practice and handles criminal defense, whistle-blower, product liability and civil rights litigation primarily. He spent ten years as a state prosecutor working for both District Attorneys Danny Craig and Ashley Wright.
State Senator Jesse. C. Stone, R-Waynesboro, became a State Senator in 2011 and represents the 23rd Senate District of Georgia. His district includes Burke, Glascock, Jefferson, Jenkins, Johnson, McDuffie, Screven, and Warren counties and portions of Columbia, Emanuel and Richmond counties. Before joining the State Senate, Sen. Stone was the mayor of Waynesboro from 2003-2007. He earned a joint M.B.A.-J.D. at the University of Georgia in 1981.
Pamela James Doumar graduated from Georgetown University and was admitted to the State Bar of Georgia in 1988. After practicing law in Augusta for some time, she has previously been appointed as a Juvenile Court Judge in Richmond County on a number of occasions.
Rodney Quesenberry graduated from Southern Illinois University School of Law in 2001. Later that year, Quesenberry began practicing as an assistant solicitor general for Richmond County under then Solicitor Sheryl B. Jolly. Following Judge Jolly’s election to the Superior Court Bench, Quesenberry went into private practice in 2006.
T. Pete Theodocion graduated from the University of Georgia School of Law and has been a member of the State Bar of Georgia since 1993. Theodocion has established himself as one of the most sought after criminal defense attorneys in Augusta. According to pokernews.com, he also is a hell of a card player. “As a recreational player, Theodocion mostly just enjoys playing some local events but has proved that he can hang with the big boys on a big stage.”
Beth Ann Smith has been practicing in the specialty of Divorce and Family Law since her graduation from law school in 1992 and has focused her law practice and devoted the majority of her time on issues in the specialty of Divorce and Family Law and has handled numerous cases involving all aspects of Family Law.
Laverne Lewis Gaskins joined the State Bar in 1993, after graduating from Florida State University Law School. She currently is employed by Augusta University as a Senior Legal Advisor. She was twice elected (2008 and 2012) to represent District 1 at the Democratic National Convention, and is a former Secretary and Deputy General Counsel of the Democratic Party of Georgia. Gaskins just announced in December, 2019 that she would be running against Richmond County Chief Civil and Magistrate Judge William Jennings following her unsuccessful bid for appointment to a seat on the Georgia Court of Appeals last year.
Kristina Goodwin Connell, was admitted to practice law in Georgia in 2000 following graduation from Mercer University law School. Connell worked as an Assistant District Attorney for the Honorable Daniel J.Craig from 2000-2010, and then as Chief Assistant District Attorney for the Honorable Ashley Wright from 2010-2014. Since 2014, Connell has been in private practice with her husband Scott at the Connell Law Firm, litigating criminal, civil and domestic cases in state and federal courts. Connell is also a state certified civil, domestic, and domestic violence mediator.