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Georgia’s highest court blasted local officials in Douglas County over a race for chief magistrate judge.
Justice Charles J. Bethel on Tuesday called out the Douglas County government for “playing games with the process of qualifying candidates for office,” while also overturning a lower court judge’s decision regarding the removal of a Democratic candidate from the ballot.
Bethel made his remarks during oral arguments by attorney Jonathan M. Nussbaum, who is representing the county Board of Elections and Registration and county Elections Director Milton Kidd “in a lawsuit over whether Democrat Ryan Williams was improperly placed on the November ballot,” the Longview News Journal reported.
“It’s remarkable to me that the government is playing games, frankly — and I’m not saying you, counsel, understand,” Bethel told Nussbaum. “But the government you represent is playing games with the process of qualifying candidates for office in a democratic society. That’s just staggering to me that we’re sitting here saying, ‘Well, you meet these qualifications, and these qualifications over here, they’re only process qualifications.’ That’s hard for me to wrap my mind around.”
The outlet noted further:
The high court agreed to hear the appeal by local attorney Scott Camp, who argues that Douglas County Chief Judge William H. “Beau” McClain erred when he ruled in July he didn’t have authority under state law cited by Camp (OCGA 21-2-6) to remove Williams as a candidate for chief magistrate from the November ballot.
While Judge McClain found that he couldn’t remove Williams from the ballot, he also found that the process by which Kidd, the elections board and local Democratic Party put Williams on the ballot outside of the qualifying period after another Democrat was disqualified to be in violation of state law and “disreputable.”
Williams is running against Camp’s wife, Chief Magistrate Judge Susan S. Camp, who was first elected in 1998 and is the lone Republican still holding a countywide office.
Camp asked the state Supreme Court to rule that McClain does have the authority, under OCGA 21-2-6, to take Williams off the ballot while also remanding the case back to the superior court. The outlet noted that a ruling in Camp’s favor would essentially give Judge Camp another four years in office.
“Much of the hearing Tuesday centered around whether a candidate’s ‘qualifications’ referenced in OCGA 21-2-6 — which can be challenged per the statute — entail only certain substantive things that a candidate must have, such as being 25 years old and a member of the state bar, or whether those qualifications also include the ‘process qualifications’ Justice Bethel referenced in his rebuke,” the outlet reported.
Bryan P. Tyson, Camp’s attorney, noted in a brief to the Supreme court that the statute he cited to challenge Williams’ candidacy also contained other “required processes” that amount to qualifications which can additionally result in having candidates taken off ballots.
The law “provides for a process where if a candidate’s qualifying check bounces,” the outlet reported, citing the statute which says that “the superintendent shall automatically find that such candidate has not met the qualifications for holding the office being sought” unless the issuing bank says that it made a mistake in returning the check.
Meanwhile, “Williams and the county government argue that OCGA 21-2-6 allows only challenges pertaining to whether a candidate meets the statutory qualifications criteria to run for office and does not allow challenges to the procedural process by which a candidate’s name is placed on a ballot,” the Longview News Journal added.
Georgia Supreme Court justices are non-partisan as are many other judgeships, including superior court seats, the outlet continued.
Presiding Justice Nels S.D. Peterson said during a proceeding it is an “odd thing for us to have judges running in partisan races.”
A final decision by the state’s highest court is expected before the Nov. 8 election, the New Journal reported.