While it may not be the most hotly contested race in Glynn County this year, the election for the Glynn County State Court Judgeship has been the most active.
Judicial candidates Grant Buckley, Bart Altman, Alan Tucker, Vince Sowerby and Wallace Harrell III will face off in the July 31 nonpartisan special election to determine who will take the seat in January.
All candidates have said they plan to address the court's civil and criminal backlogs if elected, but they all have different ideas for how.
The court is destined to become busy than it has been in the past, because a criminal justice overhaul, which went into effect July 1, has increased the court's jurisdiction over some criminal and civil cases which were once in the domain of superior court.
Candidates have called for more days of court, longer hours and starting a dispute mediation program.
Alan David Tucker
In Glynn County: 46 years
Relationship status: Married, three children
Education: Juris doctorate
Wallace Harrell III is one of five candidates seeking to become the next Glynn County State Court judge, and the 54-year-old Brunswick native says he can bring new insight to reduce the court's civil case load.
"The court has a broad jurisdiction, and one expertise I have is that I am a mediator as well as a lawyer," Harrell said. "If the state court would opt in to mediation, that would relieve the civil case load. As judge, I would seek to do that."
Harrell will also have an edge on getting that program started, he said, because he was on the committee that started the alternative dispute resolution program in Glynn County Superior Court. Harrell said he has never been involved in politics, but he feels the judgeship is a way for him to give back to the community.
"The practice of law is generally a service profession. I think we've lost that to some extent, but I see the state court judgeship as an extension of that service," Harrell said.
Five attorneys are now vying to replace State Court Judge Orion Douglass, who has opted not to seek a sixth term.
Altman, 45, said he has spent nearly 15 years practicing law in Glynn County, and now he is ready to serve the community.
"I'm from here -- I'm local -- I grew up here," he said. "The first house I lived in was behind the bowling alley, and I've lived pretty much everywhere in Glynn County that you can. I am able to relate to everyone or anyone in this community."
After growing up in Glynn County, Altman went to college in Valdosta and later earned his law degree from John Marshall Law School in Atlanta.
In 1997, Altman returned to Glynn County and worked as an assistant district attorney under now Superior Court Judge Stephen Kelley. He left that office to work as a public defender under now Chief Magistrate Tim Barton.
A fourth candidate has joined what is turning out to be an active race to replace Judge Orion Douglass as Glynn County's State Court Judge.
Brunswick Attorney John Wetzler is the latest to announce that he will join the race.
"It's a very important role in our community. Judge Douglass has done a very good job, and since he's stepping down, I feel called to run," Wetzler said.
Wetzler has worked in the judicial system since he was 17, working in Cobb County Superior Court. He graduated from John Marshall Law School in Atlanta and moved to south Georgia in 2000.
After working for the Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Attorney's Office under now Judge Stephen Kelley, Wetzler started a private practice in 2004.
The race for the next Glynn County State Court judgeship is getting an early and active start.
Tucker has held a private practice in Brunswick since returning to the area in 1982 after graduating from the University of Georgia School of Law in 1981. His law practice, focusing on everything from criminal defense to real estate and professional malpractice, has kept Tucker in the courtroom for most of his career.
After 30 years in the courtroom, Tucker said he has long thought of working on the other side of the bench.
"I have thought about doing this for a long time, and I have decided to get into the race now since Judge Douglass has decided to step down," Tucker said.
Tucker said he is not a typical politician and pledged to work hard to clear the State Court backlog. He also said as a judge he would make an effort to be accessible and available to the public.
There is another candidate in the race for the Glynn County State Court judgeship.
"Now, more than ever, our community deserves thoughtful, intelligent and consistent leadership from those serving in positions of authority. This philosophy is the driving force behind my candidacy and my willingness to return to public service for our community and state," Buckley said in a prepared statement released Tuesday.
Buckley, a former assistant solicitor of Glynn County State Court and Brunswick Municipal Court, is licensed to practice law in Florida, Georgia and in U.S. District Court.
Currently, Buckley is an attorney with the Jordan Law Firm on St. Simons Island and focuses on "complex civil litigation," he said.
A native of Swainsboro, Buckley received a degree in industrial management from the Georgia Institute of Technology and his law degree from the University of Georgia School of Law. He has lived in Glynn County since 2002.
One Brunswick lawyer is already stepping forward to become Glynn County's next State Court judge, as Judge Orion Douglass says he will not seek re-election after 20 years on the bench.
Douglass said in a prepared statement Thursday that he will not seek a sixth term, but he hopes to serve as a senior judge to help manage the court's ever-increasing caseload.
Since he took the bench in 1992, Douglass said he has seen the court's criminal caseload increase from about 11,000 cases annually to more than 18,000 in 2010. The civil caseload has also spiked, going from 312 cases a year in the early 1990s to more than 1,000 cases recently, Douglass said.
While Douglass has been on the bench, he said Glynn County's population has changed drastically, and the change has prompted more demands on the court.
"With the establishment of (College of Coastal Georgia) as a four-year institution, and the other changes in the Glynn County community, the demographics of Glynn County will continue to change and evolve, and the dynamics of the court will have to keep pace. The addition of a second judgeship is going to become more and more necessary if present growth patterns continue," Douglass said.
One Brunswick attorney is already stepping into the ring to become Glynn County's next state court judge.
Sowerby, who came most recently from Atlanta in 1986 and has practiced law in Brunswick since, said he's interested in the judgeship because it's the "next logical step" and because he wants to do more for the community.
"I came from a family of lawyers. That's just what we do. (The judgeship) is the next logical step in my career," Sowerby said. "Plus, we need someone in that courthouse who can do the job, and I think I'm the guy for it."
Sowerby said he has many years of courtroom experience and has a strong understanding of both state and federal law, he said.
"I'm a general practice trial attorney. I do a little bit of everything," Sowerby said.