Barrow, suing for high court vote, tells 8 justices: Recuse yourselves

Former U.S. congressman John Barrow is a Georgia Democrat. (credit: BOB ANDRES / AJC 2018 file photo)
Former U.S. congressman John Barrow is a Georgia Democrat. (credit: BOB ANDRES / AJC 2018 file photo)

Credit: Bob Andres

Credit: Bob Andres

All eight Georgia Supreme Court justices should disqualify themselves from hearing a case calling for an open election of Justice Keith Blackwell’s seat, a motion filed Thursday by former congressman John Barrow said.

The motion says Blackwell needs to recuse himself because he has been a witness in the case during lower-court proceedings. The rest of the justices should disqualify themselves because their impartiality in a case involving one of their colleagues could reasonably be questioned, the motion said.

Barrow had asked the Georgia Court of Appeals to consider his case on an expedited basis so the dispute can be settled before the May 19 election. That court then transferred the case to the state Supreme Court, whereupon Barrow’s attorneys promptly filed the motion seeking the eight justices’ recusals.

Both Barrow and Atlanta lawyer Beth Beskin sued Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger after he said they could not qualify to run for Blackwell's seat. Blackwell announced in February that he would step down from the court on Nov. 18, six months after the judicial elections and just six weeks before his term expires.

Georgia Supreme Court Justice Keith Blackwell. (DAVID BARNES / DAVID.BARNES@AJC.COM)
Georgia Supreme Court Justice Keith Blackwell. (DAVID BARNES / DAVID.BARNES@AJC.COM)

Raffensperger said Gov. Brian Kemp would fill the vacancy through an appointment, and Fulton County Superior Court Judge Emily Richardson issued a ruling in Raffensperger's favor on Monday.

Barrow and Beskin have filed separate appeals to the state high court seeking to overturn that decision. Beskin has not made a decision whether to join Barrow's motion to disqualify the justices, her lawyer, Cary Ichter, said Friday.

Former state Republican lawmaker Beth Beskin is suing for an election to be held for a seat on the Georgia Supreme Court.  (Alyssa Pointer/alyssa.pointer@ajc.com)
Former state Republican lawmaker Beth Beskin is suing for an election to be held for a seat on the Georgia Supreme Court. (Alyssa Pointer/alyssa.pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

If the justices do disqualify themselves, it will be just the third time it’s happened over the past three decades. One instance was a case brought in 1991 by then-Justice George Smith and Appeals Court Judge Harold Banke involving a dispute over their state pensions.

Barrow’s motion called on the court to replace the justices through a random selection process, picking from the pool of Superior Court judges across the state.

In calling for Blackwell’s recusal, the motion notes the state attorney general’s office has been representing both him and Raffensperger, who is a party in the case. If more litigation ensues in either state or federal court, it is “highly probable” both Blackwell and the court’s other justices may be called to testify, the motion said.

The motion also noted that the Supreme Court, in a statement released when Blackwell announced his resignation, said Kemp would appoint Blackwell’s successor. That appears to be a “pre-judgment of this case” and indicates that members of the court may have a bias in favor of Raffensperger’s position, the motion said.