A pair of bills making judgeships in rural Berrien County nonpartisan ran into opposition from House Democrats who argue all local judges should be free of party affiliation.
Many judicial roles – like superior court judges and the state Supreme Court – are already nonpartisan statewide, but when it comes to magistrate and probate judges, lawmakers have been taking them up county-by-county. The perennial bills regularly stir up controversy.
In Berrien County, the bills make the roles of magistrate judge and probate judge nonpartisan. House lawmakers also recently made Twiggs County judgeships nonpartisan, but only after Republican Speaker David Ralston cast a rare vote to muster enough support.
“I just want to tell you that we went 85% for Kemp in the election so I promise you I’m not trying to pull anything on you. I want fair for everybody,” said Rep. Penny Houston, a Nashville Republican and the sponsor of the bills.
But Democrats, who have increased in numbers under the Gold Dome, say they aren’t worried about that. They argue that if a nonpartisan judgeship is right for one county, it should be right for all counties statewide.
“We should do them all the same way,” said House Minority Leader Bob Trammell, a Luthersville Democrat. “We shouldn’t do it a county at a time … Let’s do it all or nothing.”
House Bill 568, sponsored by Powder Springs Democratic Rep. David Wilkerson, would make magistrate and probate judgeships nonpartisan offices statewide. That bill was introduced in March and has gone nowhere.
Houston said she agreed all judges should be nonpartisan and pledged to sign onto such a proposal next year.
“But right now, we’re just trying to get what the people wanted in my district and trying to have fair elections,” the south Georgia lawmaker said. “Everybody in the courts should be treated equal.”
The Berrien County bills passed Tuesday with 100-to-57 and 98-to-59 votes.