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The Georgia Supreme Court upheld a lower court decision Tuesday dismissing a challenge to the governor’s appointment of a former state senator as a superior court judge.

The ruling allows Jesse Stone to remain a judge in the Augusta Judicial Circuit. His appointment by Gov. Brian Kemp had been challenged by lawyer Maureen Floyd, who argued Kemp had waited too long to appoint him to fill a vacancy on the court.

The vacancy was created when former judge Michael Annis sent a letter to the governor in December 2019 saying he intended to resign Feb. 1, 2020. The state’s Judicial Nominating Commission on Feb. 17, 2020, submitted a list of four potential candidates to fill the seat, including Stone. Kemp appointed Stone to the seat on Feb. 22, 2021, for a term to end Dec. 31, 2022.

Floyd argued Kemp had waited too long because Annis’ term expired at the end of 2020. Senior Judge Michael Karpf ruled Kemp had not violated the state constitution’s requirement that Kemp fill the vacancy “promptly” and wrote that it did not matter that Annis’ term had run out because previous case law stated that judicial terms of office are eliminated when judges resign.

The judge also rejected Floyd’s claims that Kemp manipulated the appointment process to give Stone a longer period in office before he had to face voters.

Karpf noted Stone will face voters in a nonpartisan election next year, the same time he would have gone before voters even if Kemp had appointed him in February 2020, because state law requires at least a six-month delay before an appointed judge faces voters. Judicial elections generally take place in May, not on the November ballot that includes partisan elected officials.

The high court upheld Karpf’s ruling and noted that removing Stone would prolong the vacancy of that office.

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