Approximately 16 attendees made the snow-ladened trek to the appellate practice section luncheon Nashville, Tennessee, held in conjunction with the State Bar of Georgia’s mid-year meeting.
The Honorable Christopher McFadden, newly elected to the Georgia Court of Appeals, gave a fascinating talk on the process of campaigning for the appellate bench, the process of moving into the court as a new judge, and his first days as the newest judge on the Court of Appeals.
Participants heard a “nuts and bolts” account of the process of getting elected to a statewide judicial seat and how Judge McFadden integrated lessons learned from his unsuccessful bid in 2008 to get into a runoff and ultimately win a resounding victory in the runoff
Hiring a strategist/consultant
Judge McFadden noted that there are a few people in the state that know how to best run for statewide election. For the 2010 election, he hired one of them. The most innovative contribution was the introduction of what Judge McFadden termed “Robo calls.” The consultant relied upon a list of phone call recipients likely to vote in the runoff election, the use of recorded endorsement messages by key Democratic and Republican figures throughout the state, and strategic times for calling. The bottom line is that robo-calls work, even if some people called him back to complain about them.
Meetings Meetings Meetings
In addition to working with a consultant and executing a set of recorded phone calls to his target audience, Judge McFadden said that he spent a great deal of time going to meetings. Toward that end he devoted a great deal of time to attending civic organization meetings as well as Democratic and Republican party meetings throughout the state.
However, one of the challenges that came from attending partisan party meetings was maintaining a sense of “neutrality” in partisan meetings. Judge McFadden seemed proud of the fact that the judiciary in Georgia is non-partisan. He noted that there were moments, though few and far between, where members of his audience pressured him to “reveal” his political leanings and threatened to assume things from his choice not to disclose.
The Use of Resources
One key strategy he noted for the use of resources was to raise money and use most of it at the end of the election. The strategy appears to pay off significantly if one considers that he finished second in the general election but finished resoundingly in first in the runoff
Qualifications Succinctly Discussed
Judge McFadden noted that one of the keys to winning a statewide election court judicial race is to pick a theme, a short phrase or single word and run with it throughout the entire election. In this election, his strategy was to compare his qualifications for the job to all of the others who he believed to be less qualified. “I wrote the book,” a reference to his appellate hornbook, became a campaign theme that was simple, resonated, and encapsulated the whole idea of superior qualifications in a single pithy phrase.
Starting Out as Judge
A new judge has to find an office. And any vacancy on the Court creates a great deal of activity as judges move to more desired offices than the ones they currently occupy. It’s a process Judge McFadden called “musical offices on a grand scale.”
Prospects for the Future
Judge McFadden wants to be proactive as a judge, getting involved in the opinions from the beginning rather than simply signing off on opinions drafted by staff attorneys. He has found that the sheer volume of work necessary as part of a Court of Appeals judge makes it difficult to get in front of the cases the way he would like. He also notes that the amount of time he has to spend own cases as a judge is less than the amount of time he had to spend on drafting briefs for clients.
As a practitioner, I think this news is good. It signals that a brief that is well written, accurate, and that judges can trust is important because the advocates have much more time to spend on cases than the judges have. The brief is very important, which is good news for prepared advocates and opponents of unprepared advocates.