Gov. Deal appoints three to appeals court bench

Gov. Nathan Deal on Thursday filled three new openings on the state Court of Appeals with a district attorney who has prosecuted judges, a lawyer who served as the state’s top litigator, and a judge who was once a law partner with the speaker of the state House of Representatives.

The appointees are: Brian Rickman, district attorney of the three-county Mountain Judicial Circuit; Nels Peterson, vice chancellor for legal affairs and secretary to the Board of Regents; and Superior Court Judge Amanda Mercier of the three-county Appalachian Judicial Circuit.

“We were fortunate to interview a deep pool of strong, well-qualified candidates during this process,” Deal said. “I am pleased to have selected these exceptional candidates from that list. Their expertise, experience and public service records are an asset to Georgians and will make them excellent Court of Appeals jurists.”

Their terms begin Jan. 1, when the appeals court expands from 12 to 15 members, and end Dec. 31, 2018.

Backgrounds of the three appointees:

  • Rickman, 38, has served as district attorney since 2008. During that time, he assisted the state Judicial Qualifications Commission and prosecuted two judges — one who was suspended and another who resigned and pleaded guilty to theft. Rickman obtained his law degree from the University of Georgia and previously served as a district attorney's office investigator. In May, Deal appointed him to serve on the Georgia Commission on Medical Cannabis.
  • Peterson, 37, once served as state Attorney General Sam Olens' solicitor general and oversaw the tri-state "water wars" case and other high-profile litigation. Early this year, he took his current position at the Board of Regents. Peterson obtained his law degree from Harvard Law School, served as a law clerk for federal appeals court Judge Bill Pryor, worked for the firm King & Spalding and served as former Gov. Sonny Perdue's executive counsel.
  • Mercier, 40, a member of the Mercier apple-growing family in North Georgia, has sat on the Superior Court bench since 2010. Before that, she was a law partner of House Speaker David Ralston. Two years ago, Deal appointed Mercier to the Georgia Commission on Family Violence, and she now presides over the Appalachian Judicial Circuit's Mental Health Court. Mercier obtained her law degree from Syracuse University College of Law.

“Governor Deal’s appointments today continue to deepen his imprint on Georgia’s judiciary with continued emphasis on temperament, intellect and a steady center of gravity about the issues important to Georgians,” said Randy Evans, co-chair of the governor’s Judicial Nominating Commission.

Deal, a former prosecutor and judge, had already appointed four judges to the state Court of Appeals and, when the court expands next year, he will have appointed seven of its 15 judges.

The governor has appointed one justice on the Georgia Supreme Court but will be able to replace two justices — Chief Justice Hugh Thompson and Justice Harris Hines. Both are expected to retire before the end of Deal’s term. Also, Deal is considering expanding the seven-member state Supreme Court to nine justices.

All told, that means Deal could have the chance to appoint a majority of the top court’s judges and nearly a majority of the Court of Appeals bench.

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