Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul is set to make Municipal Court judge reappointments at the next City Council meeting after missing the deadline to do so in June. An expert said the city’s use of an informal panel to make judge recommendations is not unusual, but that missing a deadline could allow legal challenges against the judges’ rulings during that lapsed time.
The city has drafted resolutions that would reappoint four of the five current judges and are set to be voted on by City Council Aug. 7. The other judge, Sharon Dickson, was accused of bias and has asked the city to not be reappointed, city spokesperson Sharon Kraun said.
Dickson, who had a sentence reduced by another judge July 27 after bias accusations, also serves on Dunwoody’s court. Dunwoody spokesperson Bob Mullen said that she has performed “admirably” on its court and the city is not preparing any review of her cases or employment. She has not resigned from Dunwoody’s court, Mullen said in an email.
In Sandy Springs, the mayor appoints city judges, who are confirmed by the City Council.
Jonathan Nash, the director of the Emory University Center for Law and Social Science, said the way the city appoints judges is not uncommon.
“It’s really hard to select judges. There are problems with a lot of the systems,” he said.
A private selection process is used commonly from the municipal to the federal level, he said. Although not the most transparent way, other systems, like voting, bring their own problems, such as voters not knowing who they are, he said.
“It’s a tough nut to crack,” Nash said.
Paul said in an interview that he plans to make reappointments “soon,” but did not give a date. The next City Council meeting is Aug. 7.
He said he is again using a team of lawyers to review the judges and make recommendations, but wouldn’t comment on whether any changes will be made.
“Judges ought to be part of a peer review process. Just like transportation infrastructure shouldn’t be designed by liberal arts majors, judges shouldn’t be appointed without some advice from their peers,” Paul said.
Although the deadline has passed, Paul said the court is still functioning normally.
“The system is working fine,” he said.
He said he doesn’t want an “artificial” deadline to prevent him from having the time to make the right decisions.
The four-year term is stipulated in the City Charter, and the reappointment date was stated in the judges’ appointment letters.
“Any major appointments I make, particular to the courts, are very deliberate. I don’t let artificial deadlines get in the way of making good decisions,” he said.
Nash said the passage of the deadline for the judges to be reappointed could provide a legal argument that their rulings since that deadline could be challenged.
Kraun did not respond to questions about that issue.
However, Nash said it’s not unreasonable to expect the court to keep hearing cases despite an authority missing the deadline.
“It’s not that odd to think that if an appointing authority doesn’t do its job in time that the court would keep functioning,” he said.
Since a judge in this case has been the subject of controversy and has had comments condemned by a higher court, it should be expected that the judges be subject to extra vetting, Nash said.
If someone believes a judge has been biased or behaved inappropriately and they can’t reach another resolution, they can submit a complaint to the state’s Judicial Qualifications Commission, Nash said.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly described the method that changed a sentence imposed by Judge Dickson.