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Deal gets short list of names for state Supreme Court appointments

Gov. Nathan Deal now has nine names to choose from to fill two upcoming vacancies on the Georgia Supreme Court. But the governor’s son, who was also nominated, took his name off the list.

The governor’s Judicial Nominating Commission sent its short list to Deal this week. Deal is expected to pick two from the list to fill the seats of Britt Grant, who was confirmed Wednesday by the U.S. Senate to fill a vacancy on the federal appeals court in Atlanta, and Harris Hines, the court’s chief justice who is retiring on Aug. 31.

The list is comprised of two legislators, six trial judges and a lawyer at the state Attorney General’s Office. The two who are chosen would join seven other justices on the Georgia Supreme Court.

Sen. Bill Cowsert, R-Athens, one of nine potential nominees to fill vacancies on the state Supreme Court. (BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM) (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

The governor’s son, Jason Deal, a Superior Court judge overseeing cases in Hall and Dawson counties, had been among those nominated and made it through one elimination round to 20 potential nominees. But he chose to withdraw from consideration before his father had to make a decision.

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“Legally, he could appoint me, but I wouldn’t put him in that position,” Deal said of his father. “There would always be a black cloud on me and my daddy if he did that.”

Governor Deal has said that attending drug court graduation ceremonies presided over by his son had a tremendous influence on him and inspired some of his criminal justice reform initiatives.

Rep. Andy Welch, R-McDonough, one of nine people on a short list sent to Gov. Nathan Deal as possible appointees to fill vacancies on the Georgia Supreme Court. (BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM) (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Judge Deal said he continues to enjoy his job as a trial judge and takes great satisfaction overseeing his two drug courts.

“This wasn’t the right time,” he said of the state Supreme Court vacancies. “We’ll see what happens in the future. I love what I’m doing now.”

Cobb County Superior Court Judge Tain Kell, one of nine people on a short list sent to Gov. Nathan Deal as possible appointees to fill vacancies on the Georgia Supreme Court. (Handout) (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

The nine nominees on the short list sent to Governor Deal are:

  • DeKalb County Superior Court Judge J.P. Boulee.
  • Senate Majority Leader Bill Cowsert, R-Athens, a founding partner of the Cowsert & Heath law firm.
  • Superior Court Judge Melanie B. Cross, who oversees cases in Irwin, Tift, Turner and Worth counties.
  • DeKalb County Superior Court Judge Asha Jackson.
  • Cobb County Superior Court Judge Tain Kell.
  • Fulton County Superior Court Judge Shawn LaGrua.
  • Georgia Solicitor General Sarah Warren at the state AG’s Office.
  • Rep. Andy Welch, R-McDonough, manager of the Smith, Welch, Webb & White law firm.
  • Fulton County Superior Court Judge Paige Reese Whitaker.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Shawn Lagrua, shown addressing prospective jurors in 2011, is one of nine people on a short list sent to Gov. Nathan Deal as possible appointees to fill vacancies on the Georgia Supreme Court.(Brant Sanderlin/bsanderlin@ajc.com) (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

The state Supreme Court, which often hears appeals of high-profile murder cases and constitutional challenges to state laws, has nine members. So far, Deal has appointed Grant, President Donald Trump’s nominee to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, and Justices Keith Blackwell, Michael Boggs and Nels Peterson.

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