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Georgia Settles Suit Over Election of Judges

June 18, 1992

ATLANTA (AP) _ Gov. Zell Miller and black plaintiffs today reached an out-of-court settlement that would eliminate contested elections for judges in the state, ending a four-year legal battle.

Instead of electing judges the way they elect other office-holders, voters would decide every four years whether to retain or dismiss judges appointed by the governor.

Miller called the settlement ″a fair and responsible one,″ saying it would preserve judicial independence while promoting racial harmony.

State Rep. Tyrone Brooks, the key plaintiff in a suit that challenged judicial elections, called agreement ″a monumental, historic″ document guaranteeing fairness for blacks.

The agreement must be submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice for approval and then to the courts.

Miller said legislative approval might be necessary later, but he said the state will begin implementing the changes now as part of the settlement agreement.

Brooks’ suit contended that Georgia’s current method of choosing judges - electing them at-large from circuits and requiring a majority vote - illegally dilutes black voting strength and makes it difficult to elect black judges.

The new electoral plan, a version of the Missouri Plan used by some other states, requires the governor to make initial judicial appointments and the voters to decide four years later whether to ratify or reject the appointment.

If a judge is rejected, the governor would appoint a new judge, choosing from candidates proposed by the Judicial Nomination Commission.

The four-year legal battle has cost the state more than $750,000 and left the fate of many sitting Superior Court judges uncertain.

The agreement also stipulates that the state will have at least 25 black Superior Court judges by Dec. 31, 1994. It now has nine, out of a total of 141. Superior Court judges preside over the most serious civil and criminal cases.

The state will give the black plaintiffs two seats on the Judicial Nominating Commission, which proposes judicial candidates to the governor. The commission would expand from nine to 11 members.

Currently, the governor appoints judges only when there is a vacancy; those appointees then must stand for election when the term is over.

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