Georgia governor announces pick to fill high court seat

ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia’s governor on Tuesday announced his pick to fill a vacant seat on the state’s highest court.

Gov. Brian Kemp said in a news release that he intends to appoint Fulton County Superior Court Judge Shawn LaGrua to fill the Georgia Supreme Court seat vacated last month by Keith Blackwell. The vacancy spawned a legal fight after Blackwell announced his retirement earlier this year.

“I am honored to appoint Judge Shawn Ellen LaGrua to the Supreme Court of Georgia,” Kemp said in the release. “Judge LaGrua has spent a 30-year career serving her fellow Georgians, and I am confident that she will bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to the bench.”

Before taking the bench in Fulton County, LaGrua served as the inspector general in the secretary of state’s office when Kemp held that position. She also was the DeKalb County solicitor general and worked as a prosecutor in several judicial circuits in the state.

Chief Justice Harold Melton said he and his colleagues on the high court were delighted by LaGrua’s appointment.

“She is an excellent choice among a number of excellent choices the governor had available to him,” Melton said in a statement. “We are excited and look forward to her joining us to do the business of the people.”

Blackwell was appointed to the high court in 2012 by then-Gov. Nathan Deal after serving two years on the state Court of Appeals and was also on President Donald Trump’s list of possible U.S. Supreme Court nominees.

He announced in February that he had decided to return to private law practice. Law firm Alston & Bird announced last month that Blackwell is to rejoin the firm, where he began his career in private practice, in January.

Blackwell would have been up for reelection in May, but he sent the Republican governor a letter in February saying he planned to resign his seat on the Supreme Court on Nov. 18. Kemp accepted his resignation and told Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger that he would appoint a replacement. As a result, Raffensperger canceled the scheduled election for the seat.

Two would-be candidates for the seat, who were told the election had been canceled when they tried in March to qualify for the election, filed lawsuits. John Barrow, a former Democratic congressman from Athens, and former Republican state lawmaker Beth Beskin of Atlanta asked a judge to put the judicial election back on the calendar and allow candidates to qualify.

A Fulton County Superior Court judge ruled in March that the governor had a right to appoint Blackwell’s replacement, and the state Supreme Court in May upheld the decision in a 6-2 ruling.