The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
With the number of black Fulton County judges declining, civil rights and legal groups Thursday called on the governor to put more people of color on the bench.
photo David Goldman, AP The Rev. Joseph Lowery speaks during a May 24, 2012, news conference with a coalition of civil rights and attorneys groups saying African-American judges are disappearing from the bench in one of Georgia's most heavily-populated black counties
"This is about ensuring that Fulton County minority judges don't one day become an endangered species," Chris Stewart, president of the Gate City Bar Association, said.
Leaders from several groups stood on the steps of the Fulton courthouse and expressed disappointment that the percentage of African-American judges on the Fulton Superior Court bench has dropped from 44 percent (eight out of 18) in 2002 to 30 percent (six out of 20) this year. During the past decade, every black judge who has either resigned or retired from the court has been replaced with a white appointee, the groups said in a statement.
"We are watching a disappearing number of African-American judges, which is not fair to the citizens of this community," the Rev. Joseph Lowery, representing the Coalition for the Peoples' Agenda, said. "We're here to protest that injustice. ... We don't need in this new century the habits of the old one."
According to Gov. Nathan Deal's website, the governor has made at least 20 appointments to the state trial and appellate court benches since coming into office in January 2011. At least three of his appointees are African-Americans: DeKalb Superior Court Judge Asha Jackson, DeKalb State Court Judge Eleanor Ross and Clayton State Court Michael T. Garrett.
Stephanie Mayfield, a Deal spokeswoman, said the governor put Jackson on the DeKalb bench after being recommended to do so by the Georgia Association of Black Women Attorneys.
Deal spokesman Brian Robinson said the governor works closely with the members of his Judicial Nominating Commission to find the most qualified candidates for the bench.
"The governor celebrates the diversity of our vibrant state and he’s appointed African-Americans and other minorities to the important positions," Robinson said. "Governor Deal takes into consideration the importance of diversity in his appointments, but his first priority is selecting first-rate jurists."
It is unclear when another vacancy will open up on the Fulton bench. So far, Deal has had two opportunities to fill vacancies left by black judges and he has replaced them with white appointees. Last year, Deal appointed his chief counsel, Todd Markle, to succeed Michael Johnson, who resigned to run for Congress. This year, Deal appointed former federal and county prosecutor Robert McBurney to succeed Marvin Arrington, who retired.