I was pleased to see that Judge Henry Newkirk of the State Court of Fulton County made the "short list" for the Superior Court seat being vacated by Judge Stephanie Manis taking senior status.  While Judge Manis was one of my classmates at Emory Law School, I first met Judge Newkirk at Furman when he was a freshman and I was a senior.  He later transferred to Florida State, entered law enforcement, became a homicide investigator, went to  night law school, became an excellent Assistant District Attorney in Atlanta, and roughly a decade ago was appointed as a State Court Judge. His background is excellent for dealing with the heavy felony caseload in Superior Court.  While his wife is a prominent insurance defense lawyer, he is fair and knowledgeable in dealing with the civil cases. I hope he gets the appointment.

Here’s what the Fulton County Daily Report published about the nominees:

Elizabeth P. “Liz” Archer, 39, who for the last year-and-a-half has served as interim state inspector general. She also has served as a public defender in Florida and in Fulton County. A law graduate of Mercer University, Archer is married to Balch & Bingham Atlanta managing partner T. Joshua R. Archer. JNC chairman Michael Bowers is a partner at Balch & Bingham.

Susan E. Edlein, 37, a graduate of the University of Virginia law school, is a litigator for Holland & Knight specializing in real estate litigation and corporate tort liability.

Katherine B. Monahan is an assistant U.S. attorney in Atlanta and chief of the Terrorism, Violent Crimes and Firearms Unit. Prior to that, she served as a Fulton County prosecutor. Monahan is a graduate of the University of Georgia School of Law.

Henry M. Newkirk, 54, is a Fulton County State Court judge. A former police officer, he graduated from the Woodrow Wilson Law School and worked in the DeKalb solicitor’s office and as a Fulton assistant DA before becoming a judge.

Andrette Watson, 42, a medical malpractice specialist at Green, Johnson & Landers, is a former Fulton and DeKalb assistant DA. She is a law graduate of St. Louis’ Washington University and has worked in the criminal division of the state attorney general’s office and as an assistant DA in DeKalb and Fulton counties.

You see the pattern. Of the nominees other than Judge Newkirk, two are current government employees.  Another has spent most of her career as a prosecutor before recently entering an medical malpractice defense firm. None have significant experience representing individuals who have been hurt.  From the little bit I have picked up outside the news article, none appear to be the sole support for their families with kids in or headed toward college. (If I’m wrong, someone will correct me.) The pattern continues with underpaid judicial positions attracting only government lawyers who have years invested in retirement plans that flow easily into the judicial retirement plan and/or lawyers who have well paid spouses.  Experienced lawyers who have built a successful private practice, who are the sole support for their families, who have kids to send to college, and who are not independently wealthy, generally cannot take those positions without a great deal of personal and family sacrifice. Under the circumstances, it is amazing that we get as many good judges as we do.

At a reception Thursday night, I talked with a candidate for a Superior Court seat in a suburban county.  He has spent his entire legal career of 25 years as an Assistant District Attorney in that county and now feels "called" to judicial service.  I wish him well and hope he becomes a great judge. I will make a modest donation to his campaign, though I will probably never have a case in his court.  Of course there is no financial sacrifice in moving from Assistant District Attorney to Superior Court Judge.  Having spent some time as an ADA, after law school, I am very sure that one does not get civil litigation experience or any understanding of the practical realities of private practice in that position. The system would be better if it were financially sane for lawyers who have successful private practice experience to go on the bench.

I will continue to work within the Bar to support judicial pay raises.  Given the obvious hostility of some of our more vindictive demagogue politicians toward the concept of an independent judiciary, I am not optimistic about that.  I will also support judicial candidates who appear capable of transcending their lack of experience representing individuals in private practice.  And when I have cases before judges who do not have significant civil experience, I will not assume any familiarity with the legal issues in my case.


The Shigley Law Firm  represents plaintiffs in wrongful death and catastrophic injury cases statewide in Georgia, and in other states subject to the multijurisdictional practice and pro hac vice rules in each state. Ken Shigley was designated as a "SuperLawyer" in Atlanta Magazine and one of the "Legal Elite" in Georgia Trend Magazine. He is a Certified Civil Trial Advocate of the National Board of Trial Advocacy, Chair of the Southeastern Motor Carrier Liability Institute and former chair of the Georgia Insurance Law Institute. He particularly focuses on cases arising from truck wrecks and accidents (tractor trailers truck wrecks, semi truck wrecks,18 wheeler truck wrecks, big rig truck wrecks, log truck wrecks, dump truck wrecks.