VALDOSTA – Jeremy Baker was sworn in as Valdosta’s new municipal court judge Monday bringing the city’s court back to order.
Baker said it is a privilege to have the city’s trust in him as he takes on the position.
He did, however, take a moment to remember Vernita Bender, the municipal court judge before him.
“She is the woman who set the foundation with her intelligence, her integrity and her dedication to the City of Valdosta,” Baker said.
Bender sat in the municipal court judge position from 2006 to her death in December 2020.
She was responsible for creating a mock trial program in Valdosta, honored in 2015 with a special recognition award by the Council of Municipal Court Judges for her work on the program, and featured in 2016 as one of the most influential Black judges in the state by the Judicial Council of Georgia.
“Those are some pretty big shoes to fill,” Baker said.
But they are ones he can fill, Mayor Scott James Matheson said.
Baker was selected out of 13 individuals who sent resumes to the municipal court judge recommendation committee.
The committee – consisting of City Manager Mark Barber, Matheson, Valdosta City Council members Sandra Tooley, District 2, and Andy Gibbs, District 3, and legal official James G. Tunison, former Southern Judicial Circuit judge, with Catherine Ammons, deputy city manager and director of human resources, serving as an ex-officio on personnel matters – narrowed the process down to three individuals, reviewing any supporting documentation that came in with the resumes.
During the process, Matheson said the more they went on, the more Baker appeared as the obvious choice. During his interview, Matheson saw Baker answer questions with an open honesty.
He’s someone who chose to be involved in the community and helped the city play catch-up in its time of need, the mayor said; it was noticeable his heart was in the community.
“During the shutdown, he was involved in helping get (the court) caught back up,” Matheson said. “He’s going to have to do it again the second he says (I solemnly swear).”
Baker went straight to his new office after the ceremony, getting back to work on catching the court up with cases stalled by the pandemic.