Two newly appointed Georgia Superior Court judges within the Western Judicial Circuit are facing challengers for this upcoming May election.
Local prosecutor Allison Mauldin is challenging Judge Eric Norris, and public defender Lisa Lott is challenging Judge Regina Quick. All four judges in the circuit have the same jurisdiction, so challengers can choose any seat.
The Western Circuit is led by four judges who serve four-year terms and consists of Clarke and Oconee counties, one of 49 circuits in the state.
Superior courts have general jurisdiction over trial cases in Georgia as well as hearing appeals from lower courts. They handle felony criminal cases, civil lawsuits and family law.
Gov. Nathan Deal appointed Norris, a former Watkinsville judge, in spring 2016, filling the newly created fourth judgeship. Prior to, the Georgia legislature voted to add the fourth judgeship because of the increased caseload within the circuit.
In fall 2017, Deal appointed Quick, a former Republican state representative, replacing Judge David Sweat upon his retirement.
This is the first judicial election for both Norris and Quick because they were both previously appointed by the governor.
Lisa Lott is the chief assistant in the Western Circuit Public Defender for the past 18 years. Lott is a firm believer in local control, and her principal motivation in running is to empower the community to elect their own judge, she said.
Before working in the public defender’s office, she worked as a prosecutor in the Gwinnett District Attorney’s Office and also as a staff attorney at the Council of Juvenile Court Judges in Atlanta.
Lott graduated from the University of California, Berkeley as well as Emory Law School. Her husband Doug Haines served as a Democratic state senator, representing Athens from 2001 to 2004.
Lott says that the appointment process is inherently political, adding that partisanship is a factor in most appointments, including those to the Athens and Oconee judgeships.Lott would prefer for local citizens to elect individuals into this position, rather than having the position appointed by the governor. Her opponent was appointed in August of 2017.
“It is time for our community to elect our judges, as opposed to Atlanta appointing all of our superior court judges … And by Atlanta, I mean the governor,” Lott said.
Lott said her experience as a public defender gives her a valuable perspective.
“When you are a public servant and representing the indigent population … You have a very good perspective of who the community is, who makes up the community, who lives here, what their needs are,” Lott said.
Lott praised the work done by special courts such as the felony drug court, the treatment and accountability court and the veterans court, but she expressed some reservations about the establishment of a parental accountability court.
Lott is worried that it might be similar to other courts of the same kind, where there have been exclusions for violent felons or people with “probation holds,” though she does think the court should be looked into further.
“I find that limitation to be troubling, because my experience with working with people like that, and I work with people in those situations everyday, is that they’re the ones who need the services to get back on their feet and pay child support,” Lott said.
Judge Regina Quick
Regina Quick was appointed to the bench in August 2017 and sworn in on Oct. 3 as the first woman to serve as Western Circuit superior court judge since its establishment in 1797.
No stranger to campaigning, Quick unseated Doug McKillip in the Republican primary to become the state of Georgia District 117 representative in 2012. Quick served in the state House from 2013 until her appointment to Superior Court judge.
Quick is a graduate of Auburn University and UGA School of Law. As an attorney, she worked as an associate for Lyndon and Gilley, now known as the Law Offices of John F. Lyndon, and then for J. Hue Henry until 1996, when she started her own firm practicing family law.
Since her appointment, Quick said her primary goal has been improving access to justice.
Starting in December 2017, Quick helped to set up monthly pop-up law clinics. She has also partnered with UGA School of Law to form the Self-Represented Litigant Center, which operates one day a week from the UGA Law Library.
Quick said these initiatives help provide free legal advice to self-representing litigants, and she hopes to extend the SRLC to operate more than its current schedule.
“It’s especially important because so many family law litigants are self represented, and that of course effects not just families, but especially children,” Quick said.
Bail reform is something else she wants to look into, an issue that was brought up in the Georgia Assembly in February. A recurring problem in the courts is that homeless individuals cannot be managed within the traditional bail/bond framework, due to lack of “basic information” like mailing addresses, Quick said.
Quick mentioned the possibility of pairing community nonprofit groups with low-risk offenders as a potential solution.
Her latest project is the Parental Accountability Court, which is in the process of being established. The PAC seeks to assist litigants who have “chronic payment problems and chronic careerage issues” with paying child support. The search for a coordinator is underway, Quick said. The coordinator will be a state employee, housed in the Georgia Department of Human Services’ Division of Child Support Services.
“The coordinator will be the person who matches [litigants] to job training, job opportunities, educational opportunities, and try to help with whatever obstacles are keeping them from supporting their children,” Quick said.
Currently, enforcement relies on driver’s license suspensions and incarceration, Quick said. When established, the PAC would automatically reinstate drivers licenses for individuals who are registered.
“The folks in PAC are people who have bumped into problems, and typically those problems relate to employment or health issues,” Quick said.
Correction: In a previous version of this article, Judge Eric Norris was said to be a prosecutor. He is a lawyer, not a prosecutor. This has since been corrected.