By Joel Hall
More than 14 months after state lawmakers approved a fifth Clayton County State Court judgeship, to tackle a massive caseload, Gov. Sonny Perdue has appointed Aaron Mason to the post.
Mason, 40, who serves as a Senior Assistant Attorney General for the state of Georgia, will join State Court judges Harold G. Benefield, Linda S. Cowen, John C. Carbo, and Morris E. Braswell in addressing the more than 50,000 cases the court adjudicates annually. The judgeship was created during the state's 2009 legislative session.
The appointment is "a homecoming," Mason said. The Emory Law School graduate worked under former Clayton County Solicitor General Keith Martin in the mid-1990s.
" "I feel like I cut my teeth as a young lawyer in Clayton County," he said. "I learned a great deal there, and since then, have learned a lot at the attorney general's office. My first real job was with the Clayton County Solicitor's Office," he said. He has worked for the Georgia Attorney General's Office for 10 years.
"The governor called me Monday morning," said Mason. "I was, of course, very happy that he selected me ... There are a lot of qualified candidates that he had to choose from. This will be my first time serving as a judge. [However,] I think I'll have the ability to hit the ground running."
The state court deals with such cases as medical malpractice, wrongful death, civil litigation, contracts, commercial disputes, family violence, drunk driving, traffic tickets, and commercial theft, said Chief State Court Judge Harold Benefield. He said a study conducted two years ago by the Georgia Administrative Office of the Courts, and the National Center for State Courts, revealed that Clayton County's four State Court judges were handling more than twice the normal caseload.
"The Administrative Office of the Courts, two years ago, determined that the four judges were doing the work of 9.7," Benefield said. "Even under the best of circumstances, meeting that burden is a real challenge. Over 50,000 cases a year are being dealt with in state court. We have been really blessed that some retired judges have come in to help us, but it has not always been the best solution. We need someone to come in and give us continual help for a caseload that is incredibly large. He [Mason] is a very good man, and I think he will make a very good judge."
In addition to working as a prosecutor, Mason said the bulk of his time at the attorney general's office has been spent in it's Civil Rights Division, defending state officials, prison employees, and troopers accused of constitutional violations. He said he has also spent time in environmental litigation, defending the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Natural Resources from lawsuits, and permit challenges.
Clayton County Solicitor General Tasha Mosley said Mason was one of her mentors as an assistant solicitor general in 1998. She said Mason is well-versed in civil and criminal law, and will be an asset.
"He helped train me when I first came in," Mosley said. "I'm extremely happy and looking forward to working with him again. He's fair, he's very knowledgeable. He knows the law, and will follow the law. I don't think you will see a lot of appeals on him overturned. That is excellent, because we won't have to retry those cases."
Martin, who nominated Mason for the position, said the appointment is well-deserved.
"Aaron Mason is an inspiration for me," Martin said. "He is the man, he is the father, he is the husband that I wish I was. I have learned much from this young man. I heard when he walks in, he will inherit 3,000 criminal cases. He is a hard worker and he is a great lawyer ... he will walk in and get started."
Mason said he will not officially assume the bench until sworn in by the governor, which he said he expects will happen next month.