When Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal announced this week that he had selected local attorney Robert “Bo” Hunter III to be Richmond County’s newest state court judge, some locals were surprised by the news.
Hunter was up against local attorney Freddie Sanders to fill the seat of retiring Richmond County State Court Chief Judge Richard Slaby.
Some thought Sanders would be a shoo-in because of his long career with the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office. Others hinted that it didn’t hurt that Sanders was also a well-known local Republican.
Now, while everyone knows a judgeship is a nonpartisan seat, politics is always important when it comes to matters dealing with the governor.
But Hunter was chosen, not only over just Sanders, but he was also selected over a dozen other lawyers vying for the seat including attorneys Brandon Dial, Ben Allen, Monique Walker and Michael Arrington.
With this appointment by the governor, Hunter will serve as a state court judge until the seat is up for election in 2019.
This judicial appointment is a big deal for Hunter.
He has wanted to don a judge’s robe for several years now.
Just last year, Hunter was defeated in a runoff for a state court judicial seat by then Richmond County Solicitor Kellie Kenner McIntyre in July.
It was a big blow for Hunter, an attorney who’s been practicing in the Augusta area since 1982.
Despite Hunter’s best efforts to get the word out about his more than 30 years of service to the local legal community and his dedication to Richmond County, McIntyre ended up handily beating Hunter at the polls.
McIntyre, who is also the daughter-in-law of former Augusta Mayor Ed McIntyre, managed to receive 56.7 percent of the votes cast in the runoff compared to Hunter’s 43 percent.
The ironic part of the entire election was that McIntyre was heavily criticized by numerous media reports regarding her job performance as solicitor.
Specifically, McIntyre’s effectiveness as Richmond County State Court solicitor general came under fire following a lengthy news story that was published in The Augusta Chronicle about the enormous backlog in the solicitor’s office.
The Chronicle’s story reported that nearly $1.4 million from fines paid by thousands of residents for minor traffic tickets before Jan. 1, 2014, and some cash bonds that people put up to get others out of jail had been sitting untouched in a bank account for years.
The money had allegedly been just sitting there because of the backup in paperwork in the Richmond County Solicitor’s Office, according to the Chronicle.
The Metro Spirit attempted to interview McIntyre before the runoff and give her an opportunity to address Richmond County voters, but she never responded to more than half a dozen requests for an interview.
McIntyre also refused to debate Hunter before the runoff, but she still somehow managed to get elected to the bench.
In an ironic twist, Hunter, who also served as the former solicitor general of Richmond County State Court beginning in 1988, was probably best known for quickly addressing the tremendous backlog of cases in the office during his eight years as solicitor.
“With 33 years of experience as an attorney in Richmond County, I have had a lot of experience in state court, and I feel like I can really contribute to that court,” Hunter told a Metro Spirit reporter last year. “There have been some problems there that obviously I think I can straighten those out and really work with the other state court judges to find some solutions. Obviously, there is a backlog of cases that we can work on and get those done.”
The only reason Hunter said he decided not to run for re-election to the solicitor’s office in 1996 was, he wanted to serve in the Georgia Legislature.
“In 1996, I ran for a House seat against Jack Connell, the speaker of the House at the time,” Hunter said. “To be honest, I thought Jack was going to retire, but then he decided not to.”
As a result, Hunter was caught in a tough situation.
“I already encouraged Sheryl Jolly to run for solicitor’s office because I thought she deserved that opportunity and I couldn’t go back on her because somebody else had gone back on me,” Hunter said. “So I ran for the House and lost to Jack. And I’ve been in private practice ever since.”
While in private practice, Hunter wasn’t known for taking easy cases.
Whether he was facing a legal battle against the cigarette giant R.J. Reynolds or defending Richmond County Probate Judge Harry James III in a case involving the politically charged gun-owner-rights group, GeorgiaCarry.org, Hunter stood by the law.
Last year, Hunter seemed 100 percent ready to become a state court judge, and he was confident that he was going to defeat McIntyre.
“I just think this is my time,” Hunter said, adding that he had a number of excellent attorneys work with him over the years who eventually went on to become local judges, including Superior Court Judge Sheryl Jolly, Magistrate Judge Scott Allen and former Columbia County Chief Magistrate Judge Bobby Christine.
He was certain that he would win the 2016 runoff.
Funny how things work out, eh?
While 2016 may not have been Hunter’s “time,” this year is officially his year.
Hunter will soon be enjoying the view of an Augusta courtroom from the bench.