There’s a new sheriff in Bulloch County – and two new judges, a new Board of Commissioners chairman, two new commissioners, two new Board of Education members and a new State Court chief solicitor.
Officially, their terms begin when the clock tolls midnight Saturday for the start of 2017. But preparations long underway, including training for eight of the nine newly elected officials, culminated in the swearing-in ritual Thursday morning at the Bulloch County Courthouse. With 10 re-elected incumbents also included and one sworn in the day before, outgoing Probate Judge Lee DeLoach administered oaths to 20 officials during the final week of his 30 years and one-month career.
“This is the 30th time that I’ve done this, and it’s been a pleasure each time that I’ve done it,” DeLoach said. “It’s gotten progressively better each time. This is the best time of all.”
This drew some chuckles of realization from the crowd, estimated at more than 200 people. They filled the upstairs courtroom, including its balcony.
New court officers
Becoming the newest judge of the Superior Courts of the Ogeechee Judicial Circuit, Michael T. Muldrew raised his right hand and placed his left on the Bible held by his wife, Laurie.
All the oaths administered sounded similar, but some words differed as required for the various offices. Besides vowing, as most Georgia officials must, to support the U.S. Constitution and state Constitution, Muldrew as a judge also swore or affirmed that he will, so help him God, “administer justice without respect to person and do equal rights to the poor and the rich.”
Besides law school, Muldrew has more than 25 years of experience as a lawyer, almost all as a prosecutor. Through 2016, he was chief assistant district attorney in the Ogeechee Circuit. But he attended four days of new judges’ training in Athens the first week of December, hosted by experienced Superior Court judges from around the state.
“I learned a lot, was given a lot of great advice, and I look forward to using it as I serve the people of the Ogeechee Circuit,” Muldrew said.
Because Muldrew is prohibited from judging cases he handled as a prosecutor, he will judge only civil cases his first six months on the bench. He will handle Bulloch County juvenile cases beginning July 1 and no adult criminal cases before Jan. 1, 2018, he said.
Meanwhile, Superior Court criminal cases in the four-county circuit will be handled by incumbent Judge F. Gates Peed and Chief Judge William E. Woodrum Jr.
Muldrew succeeds retiring Judge John R. “Robbie” Turner, who has written to the governor offering to be appointed as a senior judge. Senior judges handle some cases when needed.
The other new judge DeLoach swore in was his own successor, incoming Bulloch County Probate Court Judge Lorna DeLoach. Her Bible holder was her husband, Corbett DeLoach, a third-cousin to Lee DeLoach.
Previously a law firm office manager and paralegal, Lorna DeLoach recently completed the Council of Probate Judges of Georgia orientation and has also been training with the retiring judge.
“He has helped me a great deal and shared a lot of wisdom with me and walked me through a lot of processes. I went into hearings with him and watched how he runs his office,” she said. “I’ve got some big shoes to fill.”
Joseph Cushner took the oath as the new solicitor general, or head Bulloch County State Court prosecutor, with his left hand on a Bible held by his wife, Leslie. A former assistant district attorney, Cushner succeeds outgoing Solicitor General Joey Cowart, who declined to seek re-election after 16 years.
Cushner received on-the-job training by serving the past three months as assistant solicitor, a newly created position.
Incoming Sheriff Noel Brown was sworn in with his daughter, Dakota, holding the Bible. Brown, previously a sergeant in the Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office, succeeds retiring Sheriff Lynn Anderson.
Brown was already wearing a glistening sheriff’s badge when he took the oath. Newly elected sheriffs were awarded the badges at the conclusion of a four-week training academy hosted by the Georgia Sheriff’s Association.
Immediately after Thursday’s ceremony, Brown swore in several deputies, including some that have been with the department for years. It is a process he will be completing quickly, as officers of a sheriff’s department must be sworn in by the elected sheriff, he said.
Anderson and departmental employees, some leaving and some staying, have been very helpful in a transition that was already underway, Brown said.
“Everything is going smoothly, and we’re glad to serve the citizens of Bulloch County,” Brown said.
Commission and BOE
Roy Thompson, the new Bulloch County Board of Commissioners chairman, did not require additional training. He is stepping up from the role of regular commissioner in Seat 2-C, which he held 12 years.
“To me it is a very humbling and privileged experience to be able to serve the citizens as chairman of the county commission,” Thompson said. “I put a lot of time and effort into being the commissioner for 2-C, and having done that, I feel it has qualified me to step right in.”
New in Seat 2-C, Commissioner Jappy Stringer was sworn in with his wife, Emily, assisting. New in Seat 2-A, Commissioner Curt Deal, had the Bible held by his wife, Jenni. Deal succeeds Commissioner Carolyn Ethridge.
New as District 3 Board of Education member, Stuart Tedders was sworn in with his wife, Karen, assisting and sons Walker Paul and Mercer nearby. Tedders succeeds Dr. LeVon Wilson. Succeeding Mike Herndon in BOE District 7, Heather Mims had Harleigh, 9, and Harper, 6, two of her five children, hold the Bible. The older three, Hannah, Kendahl and Hadley, also attended.
Locally, 2016 was a year for retirements. Eight officials declined to seek re-election after tenures ranging from four to 30-plus years, but no incumbents who sought re-election lost.
As master of ceremonies Thursday, Garrett Nevil, concluding 12 years as chairman of the Board of Commissioners, spoke to all of the officials.
“Service to humanity is the best work of life,” Nevil said. “It has its challenges, but it also has its rewards, so thank all of you for your service to our citizens of Bulloch County and to our state.”
Eddie Hutchens, a retired Army master sergeant and Vietnam War veteran who now works courthouse security, wore his military uniform and led the Pledge of Allegiance.
Praying the invocation, Chief Tax Appraiser John Scott echoed Nevil, saying, “To serve is a great blessing that we have.”
Closed Monday for New Year’s, the courthouse and county annexes will reopen Tuesday. The commissioners hold their first meeting of the year that day at 5:30 p.m.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.