State Rep. Beth Beskin (R- Atlanta) has announced endorsements in two Fulton County Superior Court judicial races. She has thrown in her lot with former Fulton County Magistrate Sterling Eaves and current Magistrate Gary Alembik. Both will be candidates in the July 26th general election runoffs. Judicial races are nonpartisan so the candidates will appear on both Republican and Democratic ballots.
Eaves is running to replace Judge Bensonetta Tipton Lane, who is not seeking reelection. She received 34.96 percent of the vote in the first round of voting on May 24th. Her opponent is former Fulton County Juvenile Court Judge Belinda Edwards who received 40.74 percent of the vote. Alembik seeks to replace Judge Wendy Shoob. He received just 29.24 percent of the vote in the first election. His opponent, DeKalb County Prosecutor Eric Dunaway, was just three points away from passing the 50 percent threshold needed to win in the first round. Despite her endorsees not being the number one finishers in their primaries, Rep. Beskin is “optimistic that they will win.”
Rep. Beskin joins a large group of current and former elected officials who support Eaves. From the under Golden Dome she has the support of House Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones (R-Milton) and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Wendell Willard (R-Sandy Springs) as well as the Republican senators from north Fulton— John Albers, Brandon Beach, and Hunter Hill. Her support crosses party lines as former Gov. Roy Barnes and Sen. Nan Orrock (D- Atlanta) have also endorsed her.
Alembik does not tout a list of high profile endorsements, but he has provided an outline of what he would like to accomplish as a Superior Court judge. He wants to increase access to courts that service drug addicts, the mentally ill, and veterans. His campaign claims that alternative sentencing courts for nonviolent offenders will reduce recidivism and save taxpayer dollars. Rep. Beskin “totally supports” his proposed criminal justice reforms, although it is unlikely that these plans will come to fruition without support from other elected officials in Fulton County.
More generally, Rep. Beskin thinks that Eaves and Alembik will use their “integrity” and “experience” to manage the Fulton County caseload effectively. The court tends to be busy and overcrowded. Rep. Beskin says that both candidates’ experience in Magistrate Court makes them well-qualified to serve the Superior Court. Moreover, she claims that Judge Shoob, someone with an “exemplary judicial reputation,” supports both candidates and “that is all anyone should need to know” when deciding who to vote for.
Whoever wins on Tuesday, it is unlikely to be because they have an enormous amount of support from Fulton County voters. In the July 2014 runoff election, only 3 percent of active Georgia voters cast a ballot. In the press release that announced her endorsements, Rep. Beskin reminded her constituents that judicial races matter because “it is likely that many of us will be a party to a case in Fulton County Superior Court.” But even the voters who do show up may be uninformed because judicial candidates have very low name recognition.
Roughly half of the trial court judges in the United States are elected by voters. Critics say elections threaten an independent judiciary, both by opening up the judiciary to corruption through campaign contributions (Judge Lane has been accused of this) and making judges dependent on the small group of voters who actually recognize the names on the ballot. If just 3 percent of Fulton County’s 515,508 registered voters turn out next Tuesday, the fate of the Fulton County Superior Court will be in the hands of about 7,800 people.
Polling locations can be found here.