Deal names O’Neal to judgeship, setting up battle for GOP post

Staff writer Greg Bluestein contributed to this article.

Gov. Nathan Deal on Thursday appointed House Majority Leader Larry O'Neal to a judgeship, setting up a battle for the No. 3 spot in the state House.

Deal named O’Neal to be the sole judge for the Georgia Tax Tribunal, a 2-year-old court program aimed at resolving disputes between taxpayers and the Georgia Department of Revenue. O’Neal will replace Judge Charles Beaudrot, who was paid $142,272.26 in fiscal 2014, according to state records.

“He was vetted by the Judicial Nominating Commission,” Deal said. “He indicated an interest, and I asked the commission to review him.”

The commission in February recommended three other lawyers for the post.

O’Neal is a former chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, which oversees tax law, and is a longtime tax attorney in Middle Georgia.

In a letter to fellow House Republicans this week, O’Neal said, “I am excited about this incredible opportunity yet it is with a very heavy heart that, if this offer occurs, I will be resigning as Majority Leader and as the House member from District 146, effective midnight April 30th, 2015.”

His resignation has set off a scramble to replace him as majority leader, the No. 3 position in the House. Several candidates have already emerged, including Game, Fish & Parks Committee Chairman Jon Burns, R-Newington, and Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, the current Republican caucus secretary-treasurer.

“Speaker Ralston thinks highly of both Chairman Burns and Representative Peake,” said Kaleb McMichen, a spokesman for Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge. “Knowing that other members may offer their names for consideration, it would be premature at this point to offer an endorsement.”