Michael Muldrew, currently chief assistant district attorney in the Ogeechee Judicial Circuit, will become the circuit’s newest Superior Court judge in January, after outpolling Martha Hall in Tuesday’s runoff.
Muldrew captured 5,568 votes to Hall’s 3,551 in the four-county circuit.
“First of all, I’m just very humbled by all the support that the people of the Ogeechee Circuit showed me, and I promise that I’m going to be the judge that I said I was going to be when I campaigned,” Muldrew said. “It was a hard-fought battle, my opponent worked very hard, and it’s just very gratifying to see all of our hard work and all of the support of so many people come to fruition.”
Hall, a private practice attorney with offices in Springfield in Effingham County and Statesboro in Bulloch, previously also served as an assistant district attorney in the circuit and as a municipal court judge for two towns in Screven County. She carried two counties of the circuit. In Effingham, Hall captured 754 votes to Muldrew’s 671. In Screven, she took 665 votes to his 610.
But Muldrew carried Bulloch County, which has the largest population, 3,964 votes to 1,943. In Jenkins County, the count was 323 for Muldrew to 189 for Hall.
“I spoke with Michael tonight and just congratulated him on the win,” Hall said when the newspaper called about 9:45 p.m. Tuesday.
“Thank you so much, so much,” she said to her supporters. “As I said on Facebook, I think it has been a life-changing experience, and I truly appreciate all of their support.”
She said, “Who knows?” when asked if she will try for a similar office in the future, but said she has “received some very kind calls from folks who are in the judging business” and just might. But for now, Hall said, she will go back to business as usual and work hard for the community as an attorney.
Three Superior Court judges serve all the counties of the circuit, and Judge F. Gates Peed and Judge William E. Woodrum Jr. were re-elected without opposition in the May 24 nonpartisan general election, which coincided with the party primaries. The seat on the bench Muldrew has won is being vacated at year-end by Judge John R. “Robbie” Turner, who announced in February that he will retire after 32 years as a judge, including the last 20 with the Superior Court and 12 previous years with the Bulloch County State Court.
For Hall and Muldrew, Tuesday’s runoff was a continuation of the May election, where a third candidate, Claude M. “Mickey” Kicklighter Jr., received about 20 percent of the votes. Muldrew had garnered almost 41 percent and Hall more than 39 percent. A majority of 50 percent plus one was required to win.
In the runoff, Muldrew captured 61 percent of the total.
In a mostly self-financed campaign, Hall emphasized her experience with family law and child protection matters and said that most cases before the Superior Courts, including many criminal cases, affect children in some way. Some of Hall’s statements regarding the volume of children’s issues in the Superior Court caseload had been disputed by Muldrew’s supporters.
Meanwhile, Muldrew, whose 25-year career since law school has been spent entirely as an assistant district attorney, drew dissent with an advertisement that stated “the prosecutor is the only attorney before the court who is mandated to seek justice above all else.”
Nine defense attorneys, who signed a letter published in Sunday’s Statesboro Herald, observed that all lawyers, as officers of the court, are required by the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct to seek justice and avoid conduct that undermines the integrity of the process.
The letter did not identify Muldrew by name.
Asked Tuesday how he will deal with perceptions that, as a former prosecutor, he may lean “pro-prosecutor” in criminal cases, Muldrew said that won’t happen.
“I’m not going to be a pro-prosecution judge,” Muldrew said. “Like all judges should be, I’m going to be a pro-justice and fairness judge. That’s what my whole campaign has been about is making sure that the people who appear in front of me receive justice and fairness.”
As a third-year law student, Muldrew worked in the indigent defense office at the University of Georgia School of Law, so defense work was his first legal experience, he said. But since getting his law degree, he worked first for four and a half years as an assistant district attorney in the Atlantic Circuit, and now 21 years in the Ogeechee Circuit.
But the district attorney’s office also handles certain types of civil cases, and for years handled child support cases, some of which Muldrew was assigned, so he also has experience with civil matters, he said.
Turnout in Bulloch County, including early voting and absentees as well as Tuesday’s 12 hours of traditional voting at 16 precincts, reached 19.6 percent. With 30,399 voters in the county, 5,951 cast ballots, Bulloch County Election Supervisor Patricia Lanier Jones reported.
In Effingham County, turnout was lower. The county’s numbers as reported online to the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office showed 1,425 total votes. Effingham Election Supervisor Olivia Morgan previously gave an estimate of 27,800 active registered voters, so turnout was apparently about 5 percent.
In Jenkins County, 512 votes were reported, out of 4,053 registered voters, so turnout was 12.6 percent. In Screven County, with 1,275 votes cast out of 7,108 active registered voters, turnout was 17.9 percent.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.