Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal will swear in Lovett Bennett Jr. as the Ogeechee Judicial Circuit’s newest Superior Court judge at 11:30 a.m. Monday on the second floor of the Capitol in Atlanta.
After the Judicial Nominating Commission reviewed and interviewed applicants or nominees and forwarded a short list to the governor, Deal announced last month he was appointing Bennett to succeed Judge William E. Woodrum Jr.
“We’ve got a crowd” going to the ceremony, Bennett said Friday. “It’s going to be a really eclectic group that will be there.”
His wife, Missy Bennett, will hold the Bible while Lovett Bennett raises his right hand for the oath of office. His cousin and former law partner, William J. “Joe’ Neville Jr. of the Callaway Neville & Brinson firm in Claxton, is slated to give the welcome.
Other family members, employees of Bennett’s law practice, other judges, local court and law enforcement officials and a number of Bennett’s personal friends are planning to attend. A reception will be held in the State Bar of Georgia Building after the ceremony.
Local event later
Locally, the Bulloch County Bar Association is planning to recognize both now-Senior Judge Woodrum and Bennett with a “passing the gavel” supper in mid-September.
Woodrum retired July 31 after more than 22 years as a Superior Court judge in the circuit, which has three judges and includes the Superior Courts of Bulloch, Effingham, Jenkins and Screven counties. Bennett will fill the remainder of Woodrum’s unexpired term and would need to stand for election to a full four-year term in 2020.
Judge F. Gates Peed is now the chief judge of the circuit, as the longest-serving current judge and taking over from Woodrum, who had been chief judge since 2001. The other member of the Ogeechee Circuit bench, Judge Michael T. Muldrew, was first elected in 2016.
Fate of law firm
To take on the role of Superior Court judge, Bennett is having to end his private legal practice, as such. He was the sole attorney in his Statesboro-based firm, but currently employs two secretaries, a bookkeeper, an information technology specialist and a college student-employee.
Bennett has made some arrangements for a transition for the practice but was not ready to announce these, he said.
Bennett attained his bachelor’s degree in 1978 from Georgia Southern College, now University, a master’s degree in business administration from Georgia State University in 1980 and his Juris Doctorate from the Walter F. George School of Law at Mercer University in 1983.
He began the practice of law as an associate attorney with a firm in Jacksonville, Florida, in 1983 and returned to Statesboro in the summer of 1984. So he has been in private practice here for 34 years and has 35 years’ experience as an attorney.
Bennett was an associate with Neville & Neville in Statesboro from 1984 to 1987. From 1987 to 1990, he was a partner with Callaway, Neville & Brinson. He has been in solo practice since 1990.
From the early 1990s until the early 2000s, Bennett served as a public defender in Candler and Emanuel counties. In Bulloch County, he served as municipal court judge for the cities of Brooklet and Register until his Superior Court appointment.
For his service as a Boy Scouts of America adult leader, Bennett was awarded the BSA Lifetime Achievement Award in 2016. He served as Scoutmaster for Boy Scouts Troop 342 in Statesboro from 2004 until 2017, as its assistant Scoutmaster 1999-2004 and in district committee and regional council posts.
The State Bar of Georgia honored him with the 15th annual Justice Robert Benham Award for Community Service in 2014. In Statesboro, he received the Deen Day Smith Lifetime Achievement Award in 2017 after earlier local awards for community service.
Bennett’s first day as judge in an Ogeechee Circuit courtroom will be Sept. 4 in Jenkins County Superior Court in Millen, receiving grand jury presentments, he said. Formally, each of the counties has its own court but they share the same judges.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.