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Appointed solicitor sought while several hopefuls eye elected job
Joseph Cushner
Incumbent Bulloch County State Court Judge Joseph L. Cushner held on to the judgeship to which he was appointed in March 2020. Cushner received 7,436 votes, or 68.1% of the total, to challenger Michael J. Classens’ 3,484 votes, or 31.9% in Tuesday's Primary Election.

Since appointing Joseph Cushner, previously solicitor-general of the Bulloch County State Court, to be judge of the court, Gov. Brian Kemp has advertised for applicants for an appointment to the vacant solicitor-general position.

Meanwhile, at least three attorneys with prosecutorial experience plan to seek the office through election by local voters, and next week is the time for candidates to qualify for the May 19 primaries leading to the Nov. 3 general election.

Ogeechee Judicial Circuit Assistant District Attorney Ben Edwards, Ogeechee Circuit Assistant District Attorney Catherine Sumner Findley and Assistant Bulloch County Solicitor-General Mark Lanier are the three announced hopefuls.

The solicitor-general is in the chief prosecutor in the county’s State Court, which on the criminal side handles misdemeanors cases.

Unlike the nonpartisan State Court judgeship, for which there will now be no election this year, solicitor general is a partisan position, said Bulloch County Election Supervisor Patricia Lanier Jones. So, candidates generally qualify as Democrats or Republicans.


Long appointment?

A notice emailed Feb. 18 by the State Bar of Georgia to lawyers in the Ogeechee Judicial Circuit did not refer to a temporary or acting appointment.

“Gov. Kemp is accepting applications for solicitor-general of Bulloch County,” the notice stated. “This vacancy is being created by the appointment of Hon. Joseph Cushner as State Court Judge.”

The notice gave an address and other contact information for a paralegal working in the governor’s office and this Friday, Feb. 28, as the deadline for applications.

The governor’s appointment of a State Court judge was delayed more than five months beyond the Sept. 1 retirement date of previous State Court Judge Gary Mikell. Because the judgeship is a nonpartisan office, for it the May 19 election would have been the general election rather than a primary.

Kemp’s appointment of Cushner was not announced until Feb. 14, after two other attorneys had indicated locally that they planned to seek the office in the May 19 election. Once the delay continued beyond the third week of December, the appointment then fell within six months of the election.

This triggered a clause in state law whereby Cushner will now serve a two-year-plus partial term, only having to stand for election in 2022, instead of Bulloch County voters choosing a judge this May, or in a July runoff, for a four-year term.

As a result, the State Court judgeship will not appear at all on this year’s ballots, Jones said.

A similar thing could happen with the solicitor vacancy, with an appointee serving a two-year partial term, but only if the governor made an appointment within six months of the Nov. 3 general election, Jones said. That would be very close to the May primary, two months after next week’s qualifying and potentially after ballots would be prepared.


Six-month clause

Georgia law 45-5-1 states: “In case of vacancy by resignation, death, or otherwise, the vacancy shall be filled by appointment of the Governor. The appointee shall serve until a successor is duly selected and qualified and until January 1 of the year following the next general election which is more than six months after such person’s appointment.”

“We’re still going with qualifying, because we don’t know what the governor is going to do, but if he waits until after a certain date to make an appointment, then this election is off and it goes to 2022 also,” Jones said Tuesday.

If Kemp makes the appointment sooner than May, the appointed solicitor will be guaranteed the job only until Jan. 1, and meanwhile could seek election.

Qualifying week for local Democratic, Republican, nonpartisan and independent candidates begins at 9 a.m. March 2 and concludes at noon March 6. To run for a Bulloch County office, paperwork must be filed and fees paid at the Board of Elections and Registration office, Suite 201 in the Bulloch County Annex, 113 North Main St., Statesboro.

All countywide elected offices are due for election this year to four-year terms. Qualifying fees are generally 3% of the annual base salary for the job.

The fee is $3,816.01 for solicitor general candidates. 

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