Tabitha Ponder Beckford

Tabitha Ponder Beckford.

MOULTRIE, Ga. — A quirk in state law has apparently dashed the hopes of a Moultrie native who envisioned herself on the state Court of Appeals.

Tabitha Ponder Beckford, an Atlanta attorney who was born and raised here, announced last May that she was seeking the seat held by Presiding Judge Sara Doyle, who had announced her plans to run for the state Supreme Court the week before.

Doyle wanted to replace Chief Justice Robert Benham, who planned to retire at the end of his current term, Dec. 31, 2020.

All of that was thrown into disarray when Benham announced last December that he would resign March 1 instead of finishing his term. By leaving in the middle of his term, Benham gave Gov. Brian Kemp the opportunity to appoint his replacement. State law allows judicial appointments to not face re-election if they’re appointed within six months before the election, according to coverage of the matter in the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Benham’s retirement took effect last Sunday; as of Friday Kemp had not announced his replacement.

Doyle qualified last week for re-election to her Court of Appeals seat without opposition, according to the Secretary of State’s elections website. Beckford and at least five others had announced plans to run when the seat was expected to be vacant, but none are running against Doyle.

The other five justices of the state Court of Appeals also qualified for re-election without opposition.

Two other people who were planning to run for Benham’s seat attempted to throw their hats into the ring against Supreme Court Justice Keith Blackwell, only to be hit with a similar issue in that case.

Former Democratic congressman John Barrow and former Republican state lawmaker Beth Beskin have filed lawsuits against Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger for canceling the election in that race, according to the Athens Banner-Herald.

Blackwell, who was up for election this year, announced on Feb. 28 that he would resign effective Nov. 18, which is well after the May 19 election but before the term ends on Dec. 31. Kemp’s office told Raffensperger the governor planned to fill the seat by appointment, and the Secretary of State’s office determined it should cancel the election, under the same logic that applied to Benham’s retirement.

Barrow and Beskin showed up to qualify only to be told there wasn’t an election in that race, the Banner-Herald reported online Thursday. Both have filed suit in Fulton County Superior Court, seeking to force the election to be held.

Hedging her bets, Beskin has qualified to run against Supreme Court Justice Charlie Bethel, who is seeking re-election. It is one of two state Supreme Court races on the May 19 ballot. The other is incumbent Justice Sarah Hawkins Warren being challenged by Hal Moore.

Locally, Superior Court Judge Richard M. Cowart also qualified for re-election without opposition.

Judicial elections are non-partisan races, which means candidates do not run based on party affiliation. The winner of the May 19 election will be the winner of the seat, although they won’t take office until Jan. 1. By contrast, in a partisan election, the May 19 primary would determine each party’s nominee for a seat, and those nominees would face each other in the November election to determine the winner.

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