“I’m the only one of the two of us who has judicial experience,” Stedman said. “I’m the only one of the two of us who has done any civil work.”
Stedman has spent the past seven weeks squaring off against Ann Harris, a senior assistant district attorney, in the final leg of the race to fill retiring Judge Jim Bodiford’s seat on the Superior Court. Bodiford has spent five terms on Cobb’s bench since winning election in 1994.
The two edged out Nathan Wade, a partner at the Wade & Bradley firm, in the May 20 primary. Voters will select one of the two remaining women on July 22.
Stedman touted her nearly 14 years as a judge as one of the biggest reasons she feels she would make the best addition to the court’s ten-person bench.
She was appointed to be a Juvenile Court judge in 2000 and has since amassed a collection of accolades that include Marietta Citizen of the Year, a YWCA Women of Achievement award and a gubernatorial appointment to serve on the Commission on Family Violence.
“I’m probably most proud of being recognized by my peers,” she said, referring to a 2013 “Hero” award bestowed upon her by other drug court judges in the state.
Stedman noted she now runs both the county’s juvenile drug court and family drug court.
Years of service on Superior Court
No stranger to the bench she now seeks to join, Stedman said she has sat as an assisting Superior Court judge for one week each month since being elevated to a judgeship.
She calculates she has racked up three and a half years of service for the Superior Court in total during her 14 years as a judge.
During that time, Stedman said she has handled “every kind of case,” from criminal cases to domestic litigation.
She said her opponent lacks experience with the types of cases that make up the bulk of the Superior Court’s docket.
“I think that my opponent, who I respect as a prosecutor — what she will not do as well as me is 72 percent of the cases that come in front of a Superior Court judge,” Stedman said of Harris at a debate Tuesday evening at NorthStar Church in Kennesaw, which was sponsored by the Cobb Chamber and Acworth Business Association.
Stedman was referring to the fact that criminal cases only constitute 28 percent of the cases the Superior Court handles, while domestic and civil cases comprise the remaining 72 percent.
“I’ve been the one who’s had to look and make sure that people were doing the right thing and following the law. I’ve also had to make sure the rights of the victims were protected,” she said of her judicial experience.
“I’ve been the one who’s had to make sure that, as a judge, we did the right thing. That is what a judge does. You don’t prosecute. You don’t defend. You sit up there and you make decisions when people are prosecuting and defending in front of you. That’s also true in civil cases.”
Support from several camps
A 30-year Cobb resident, Stedman said she spent a number of years in private practice after graduating from Georgia State’s law school, including as an attorney at Cauthorn & Phillips and in her own practice, Juanita Stedman, P.C.
“Juanita Stedman is a fine person,” said former Cobb Sheriff Bill Hutson, who worked with her while still in the sheriff’s office. “I admire and respect her for her courtroom demeanor.”
Hutson is one of several notable figures to publically endorse the judge since she announced her candidacy in January.
Stedman fired off a list of other supporters in her concluding statement at Tuesday’s debate, highlighting the support of Marietta Mayor Steve Tumlin, Austell Mayor Joe Jerkins, Acworth Mayor Tommy Allegood and current Sherriff Neil Warren, among others.
“A judge that works with juvenile issues and juvenile matters and the families of criminal juveniles has to have a special ability to have patience and understanding to work through problems with young people,” Hutson said of Stedman.
“I think her time on the bench in the Juvenile Court will serve her well as a Superior Court judge.”
Jerkins said friends who know Stedman well encouraged him to back her in the race.
“She’s got a lot of experience being a judge, and she’s good person,” Jerkins said.
He said he has spoken with Stedman before and described the candidate as “very kind.”
‘Tough on crime’
Harris took a swipe at Stedman in Tuesday’s debate, prompting Stedman to defend her track record as a judge.
During a segment in which the two were allowed to ask each other questions, Harris drew attention to the fact that, of the 23 cases Stedman decided that were appealed, four had been reversed.
She alleged the appeals saddled Stedman with a 20 percent reversal rate.
“It is not 20 percent. If you think I’ve only tried 23 cases in the last 13 years — I hope everybody in this room is smart enough to know I haven’t. I think it’s a compliment to my judgeship that I’ve only been reversed four times. I try cases every day,” Stedman said in her rebuttal.
Stedman said she processes hundreds of cases every year. She noted in 2013, she had more than 1,100 cases assigned to her docket in juvenile court.
Stedman rebuffed suggestions that her opponent is any tougher on crime than she is herself.
“When you talk about tough on crime — I’m tough on crime,” she said. “There’s no question about it. I’ve sentenced people. I’ve been tough in my sentencing. I wouldn’t be asked to do criminal cases in Superior Court if I wasn’t tough on crime.”
“That’s not a difference between us,” she said of Harris, “that she’s tough on crime and I’m not.”
Still, Stedman — who lives in Marietta with her husband Hugh, a lawyer — says the race has lacked the tension that has characterized other local runoffs this summer.
“I think we’ve been pretty civil with each other,” she said. “I think we both respect each other.”
“If things get tense, it’s because we’re all tired.”