Friday, February 26, 2010
DeKalb County Judge Candidates have started their campaigns.
By Ben Smith, Special to the Daily Report
Eight lawyers have formally announced their candidacies for open judgeships in DeKalb County
• Courtney L. Johnson
• Michael L. Rothenberg
• Denise M. Warner
• Akintunde A. Akinyele
• Sherry Boston
• Nicole D. Marchand
• Anton L. Rowe
• Phyllis R. Williams
Elections in 2010 to replace two retiring judges could mark a historic shift in the makeup of DeKalb County's judiciary. Superior Court Judge Robert J. Castellani and State Court Judge Edward E. Carriere Jr., both white men, say they will not seek re-election this year. Eight candidates, seven of whom are black, are vying to replace them. The election will take place Nov. 2.
If African Americans win both judicial elections, ethnic minorities would outnumber whites on the DeKalb bench in Superior and State Court. If a woman takes Castellani's seat, there would be as many female judges as males presiding in Superior Court. Currently, four of the 10 judges in Superior Court are female and half are black. Of DeKalb's seven State Court judges, two are women and three are ethnic minorities.
Three lawyers have formally announced their candidacies for Castellani's Superior Court seat. Among them is DeKalb Bar Association President Denise M. Warner, a specialist in family law and a law clerk for Superior Court Judge Mark A. Scott. Also running are DeKalb Assistant District Attorney Courtney L. Johnson and attorney Michael L. Rothenberg. Rothenberg is the only white candidate running in either judicial contest.
Meanwhile, five candidates are competing for the State Court judgeship. They include Chief Assistant Solicitor General Nicole D. Marchand and attorneys Phyllis R. Williams and Sherry Boston. Senior Assistant District Attorney Akintunde A. “Tunde” Akinyele and Anton L. Rowe, a Stone Mountain lawyer, are also running for the post. With four months until qualifying, there is still plenty of time for candidates to drop in and out of these races. “We'll probably see a few more names jump in,” said Keith E. Adams, a former DeKalb County assistant district attorney currently in private practice.
Adams hasn't picked a candidate to support for Superior Court judge. He said he is backing Williams in the State Court race. Nevertheless, Adams called the current field of candidates, “all good folks with good strong backgrounds and well regarded by the bar.”
Besides the three prosecutors running, two candidates—Rothenberg and Boston—are part-time DeKalb recorders court judges. Boston also serves as a part-time municipal court judge for the city of Dunwoody.
Two others, Williams and Rowe, are hearing officers for the DeKalb County merit system and human resources department. Williams last summer presided over merit system hearings on the firing of DeKalb Police Chief Terrell Bolton. Williams upheld DeKalb Chief Executive Officer W. Burrell Ellis Jr.'s decision to fire Bolton for insubordination.
The personal experiences of some of the other candidates seem as varied as their résumés. Rowe is pastor of his own church. Marchand is an Atlanta Falcons cheerleader, though she plans on giving it up when her contract expires in April. Marchand, 31, is the youngest candidate. She started her career in the DeKalb solicitor's office shortly after her graduation in 2003 from Emory University Law School. She's also served as a DeKalb assistant district attorney.
Akinyele is the son of a retired Nigerian civil servant important enough to have a street named after him. If elected, Akinyele says he'd be the state's first Nigerian-born judge. Akinyele, who at 16 immigrated to the U.S. in 1983, holds degrees in a variety of fields, including a master's degree in health care administration. He joined the DeKalb district attorney's office in 2003.
The Superior Court contest started only recently with Castellani's Jan. 11 announcement that he won't be running for re-election in 2010. The State Court race has been going on much longer. Boston, the most recent candidate to enter the race, filed the necessary paperwork to start raising money in July. Akinyele, the first to enter the race, signed up to run in September 2008.
The Superior Court candidates haven't been running long enough to file campaign disclosures.
Meanwhile campaign finance records show that none of the State Court candidates has jumped to a commanding lead in the race for contributions.
Records show that Williams leads in fundraising. According to the latest disclosures, which were filed in December, Williams has raised $44,159. Her contributors include Adams, attorney Griffin B. Bell III and The Barnes Law Group. Marchand reported having raised $40,000. Among her contributors were two local bonding companies. Attorney L. Lin Wood Jr. and former DeKalb District Attorney Jeffrey H. Brickman were listed as contributors to Boston's campaign. Boston reported raising $34,640 as of Dec. 31. Akinyele, who reported having raised $30,000, listed attorneys Michael D. Mann and Rodney A. Williams as contributors. Rowe, meanwhile lagged far behind with $3,251 in cash donations.
“In this economy,” said Johnson, “it's difficult to raise money, especially for a political race.”