The main reason Mark A. Lanier gives for why he should be solicitor-general in the Bulloch County State Court is simple: as assistant solicitor, he is already doing the work.
Lanier has been the assistant solicitor three years, since January 2017, when he was appointed by previous Solicitor-General Joseph Cushner. Since Cushner was appointed judge of the court by Gov. Brian Kemp and sworn-in earlier this month, Lanier is the only attorney in the solicitor’s office. Ordinarily, the solicitor-general and assistant solicitor are the two prosecutors in the State Court, which on the criminal side handles only misdemeanor cases.
Now Lanier is one of three candidates vying for the elected solicitor-general position in the county’s May 19 Republican primary. The others are Catherine Sumner Findley and Benjamin “Ben” Edwards, both Ogeechee Judicial Circuit District assistant district attorneys.
"I've done it, and I'm doing it now, and I'd like to keep doing it, you know, if the voters will have me,” Lanier said in a phone interview.
‘Seen both sides’
Before his three years as assistant solicitor, he worked nearly that long for the Ogeechee Circuit Public Defenders’ Office in the Superior Courts of the four-county circuit, and also in their State Courts.
“I've seen both sides, defense and prosecution, and I think that helps in misdemeanors because we deal with all types of misdemeanors, anything from a battery-family violence to running a stop sign. We interact with a lot of people, especially at arraignment date,” Lanier said. “We speak with people individually.”
He noted that many defendants appear in State Court “pro se,” meaning representing themselves, especially for traffic cases. It’s a setting where he thinks “it’s good to be able to talk to people on a one-to-one basis” and that his experience has taught him “what works and what doesn't for State Court."
Lanier, soon to be 35, is a Bulloch County native. After graduating from Portal High School in 2002, he attained a bachelor’s degree, with a major in philosophy and a minor in business administration, from Mercer University in Macon.
He then he received a scholarship to Appalachian School of Law in Virginia, where he attained his law degree. Admitted to the Georgia Bar in 2012, he first worked in private practice with attorney Matthew L. Waters, who had offices in Pembroke and Wrightsville.
While handling civil-law matters related to financial transactions, domestic relations and probate issues, Lanier also worked on some federal criminal defense cases with Waters’ firm. Then he returned to Bulloch County and worked for attorney April Stafford on domestic relations cases before serving with the Office of the Public Defender for the Ogeechee Circuit from 2015 to 2017.
“Practicing law in the four State Courts of the circuit provided me a great deal of experience in handling misdemeanor and traffic cases,” Lanier said in an email.
The Solicitor’s Office in the Bulloch County State Court handles approximately 2,000 criminal misdemeanors and 3,500 traffic offenses each year, he said when asked for some numbers on the caseload.
After confirming that he is currently the only attorney in the office, Lanier noted that a victim advocate and a legal secretary are also part of the staff.
“They do an excellent job and are vital to what we do,” he said. “There are a lot of logistics involved in managing our caseload, and everyone in the office has to work together for the job to be completed.”
He said a second attorney is needed and that a new assistant solicitor would be hired “when the time is appropriate” subject to county procedures and state law.
Lanier is single and has no children. When asked about his family status, he commented that he spends the majority of his time working. He usually spends his limited free time in outdoor pursuits such as fishing, hunting and kayaking, he added.
But he does have family in Bulloch County. His father is a local farmer, and his mother is retired from a state government job. His older brother and sister both live in Statesboro as well.
Lanier attends Believers Church of Statesboro and is a member of the Kiwanis Club of Statesboro.
“Bulloch County has provided a great deal for me over the past 34 years and I'd like to do what I can to repay that,” Lanier wrote in an email.
He said he truly enjoys the work that he does and hopes to make a positive impact on the county.
"I wouldn't be where I am today without the help and support of God, my family and friends," Lanier wrote. "I am incredibly thankful."
He called the Solicitor’s Office work “difficult but rewarding” and again said he hopes to continue if the voters will have him in the role of solicitor-general.
“In these three years practicing in State Court, I've learned what works and what doesn't,” Lanier said. “Being able to communicate well with people and manage our caseload takes time to learn, and I fortunately already have this necessary hands-on experience.”
He has also applied for appointment by the governor as solicitor-general, but so have the other two candidates. If named before a May deadline, the appointee would serve until succeeded in January by the winner of the election.