A family law attorney, Fulton County magistrate, hearing officer and gay Atlanta man hopes that his years of legal and judicial work will convince voters to give him a promotion to Fulton County Superior Court Judge.
Gary Alembik, 52, is one of three people seeking to replace retiring Fulton Superior Court Judge Wendy Shoob. And he brings 28 years of legal work and a decade of judicial experience to the non-partisan race, which will be decided by voters on May 24.
"I am drawn to public service and one of the things my dad instilled in me is that it's important to give back, to pay forward, to make a difference," Alembik said.
"There is nothing more satisfying to me than bringing people together to solve their problems and offer a lasting remedy. Try to drill down to the facts and find a remedy that is lasting," he added.
As a Fulton magistrate and hearing officer in the Superior Court's Family Division domestic violence court, Alembik said the insight he's gained would prove valuable as a judge. It has also showed him that the county's Superior Court judges need improved case management tools. To help, the court could implement the recommendations from the Fulton Family Division task force concerning operations and staffing. Alembik served on the task force, which developed the recommendations last year.
"It's important for judges to manage their caseload and create a logical timeline. Early intervention on the part of the judge often leads to settlement, so we need to be more active in our cases and offer more face time with the attorneys. We may be able to direct them to a settlement or alternative dispute resolutions," he said.
The Family Division would also benefit from staging rooms to provide a comfortable – and private – space for the victims of domestic violence before their court proceedings, instead of a packed courtroom where they could encounter their assailants. Alembik added that expanding and improving the Fulton Accountability Courts would also help the county's judicial system, which is often viewed with skepticism by the public.
"With the accountability courts, people end up trusting us and we don't see that a lot," Alembik said.
He added that judicial temperament is a critical factor in considering candidates.
"I have a known judicial temperament. I pride myself in that. I want people to leave the courtroom believing they have received their day in court," Alembik said.
"It’s not about us. It’s not about our power [as judges]. It ‘s about providing folks with due process and that when they leave the courtroom, they receive the benefit of us being fair," he added.
'That doesn’t define me, it just gives me pride'
Alembik and his partner, Stephen Graves (second photo left), have been together for nine years. Graves, who sells software services, supports the campaign and the time away from their Morningside home it means for Alembik.
"It is challenging. He has been a trooper. He is very supportive and [becoming a judge] would be a different way of life for us," Alembik said.
If elected, Alembik would become the second openly LGBT Superior Court judge in Fulton and likely it's first-ever gay male judge. He would join Jane Barwick on the bench. Barwick, a lesbian attorney and part-time Fulton magistrate, won a Superior Court judgeship in 2014 and replaced Cynthia Wright, who is also gay. Fulton State Court Judge Jane Morrison, a lesbian who won the seat in 2012, is running unopposed for a second term.
Alembik said that the visibility of gay judges is critical but that his campaign is broader than running only as an LGBT candidate.
"That doesn’t define me, it just gives me pride. I don’t want to define myself as being gay. But it’s something I plan on saying when I am sworn in," Alembik said.
But having another LGBT judge in Fulton would make an impression in the region's legal community. Alembik said he's already experienced that as a hearing officer and magistrate.
"I sit on the bench and these other judges see me and they think, wow, he puts on the rob and hears cases. It’s more about serving my community at large and it gives me pride to know that I am a gay man and have an opportunity to do that. I sit side by side and earn their respect. Once they say that you’re a member of their community and contributing to it, we will gain their respect," Alembik said.
Alembik was the last to step into the race but campaign disclosure reports filed in early April show that Alembik enjoys a distinct cash advantage heading into the closing weeks of the campaign.
Alembik has received $143,711 in campaign contributions – including $75,000 in loans – and has $137,837 on hand. The contributions include $1,000 from the Committee to Elect Wendy Shoob, the retiring judge Alembik's hopes to replace.
Eric Dunaway has received $101,170 in contributions and has $83,938 on hand, while Andrew Margolis has received $46,336 in contributions – including a $20,000 loan – and has $25,654 on hand.
Alembik said he's pleased with the campaign fundraising, but with little polling, a down ballot race and a county as expansive and diverse as Fulton, it's tough to tell how well his message is getting through to voters.
"With a campaign at this level, you can never judge your success. You can make an attempt to touch all the bases but you really don’t know how successful you are. Am I getting positive feedback? Yes," Alembik said.
"Does that support and money translate into votes? You don’t know," he added.
Alembik and Margolis are both members of Ahavath Achim Synagogue in Buckhead.