Supreme Court of Georgia
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Current Members of the Supreme Court

LEAH WARD SEARS, Chief Justice


CAROL W. HUNSTEIN, Presiding Justice






JEAN RUSKELL, Reporter of Decisions



Although Georgia's constitution was amended in 1835 to authorize a Supreme Court, Acts of 1835, p. 49, it was not until 1845 that the Legislature established an appellate court. Acts of 1845, p.18. Prior to 1845 a new trial before a new jury in the local court was the only procedure available for the correction of judicial error.

Before 1845 the decisions rendered in the state's courts were characterized by a lack of uniformity. In 1828 Governor John Forsyth, later Secretary of State under both Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren, lamented:

Under the present arrangement of eight Judges of the Superior Court, each confined to the circuit for which he was elected, supreme in his authority, not bound by the decisions of his predecessors or contemporaries, and not always by his own, while these will be in their turn disregarded by his successor, there can neither be uniformity nor certainty in the laws for the security of the rights of persons or property. . . The confusion produced by contemporary contradictory decisions, everyday increases - property is held and recovered in one part, and lost in another part of the state under like circumstances - rights are asserted and maintained in one circuit, and denied in another, in analogous cases." Georgia House Journal, 1828, p. 15.

In his message to the General Assembly in 1845, Governor George W. Crawford, as had every governor since 1824, urged the formation of the Supreme Court:

"Eleven Judges, each supreme in his authority and capable of being appealed from himself only to himself, cannot presume to decide with uniformity. Without uniformity law itself is a chance and has been aptly called a miserable servitude. " Georgia Senate Journal, 1845,p. 11.

Prior to 1801 the judges of Georgia's superior courts met annually to make rules and reserve points of law which might require argument and a uniform opinion. An act of 1801, however, expressly repealed that portion of the Judiciary Act of 1799 which provided for this procedure and required

"[T]hat all points reserved for argument, and now waiting a decision at the seat of government, be and the same are hereby directed to be sent back to the respective counties from whence they have been sent, and there decided by the presiding Judge." Clayton's Digest, p. 38.

Upon the repeal of this procedure for resolving difficult points of law, the judges of the various superior courts began the practice of informally conferring at the annual convention for the making of rules. But the General Assembly sought by resolution to halt even this practice after three superior court judges met "pretending to be in legal Convention" and declared certain acts of the Legislature unconstitutional and void. Georgia House Journal, 1815, pp. 47-50. The apparent hostility of Georgians toward appellate courts in general may have stemmed both from their perceived mistreatment at the hands of the United States Supreme Court in the early landmark case of Chisolm v. Georgia, 2 Dall. 419 (1793), which resulted in the eleventh amendment to the United States Constitution, and the ongoing battle between the Supreme Court and governors of Georgia over the Cherokee Indians. Continued animosity between the Legislature and the superior court judges as well as concern about the expense and delay of litigation were also reasons for Georgia's delay in instituting an appellate court. Almand, "The Supreme Court of Georgia: An Account of Its Delayed Birth," 6 Ga. Bar Journal, p. 95.

Once the bill implementing Georgia's Supreme Court was passed in 1846, enthusiasm soon replaced early skepticism. Although it had been predicted that within ten years the Court would decide all questions of law and thus no longer be necessary, Govenor George W. Crawford, in his annual message to the Legislature in 1847, remarked:

"The Supreme Court, whose establishment was so long of questionable utility, in the opinion of several Legislatures, has realized to the fullest extent the expectations of its most steadfast advocates. Its usefulness has proven its necessity. It is reforming the irregularities necessarily incident to the old system of judicature, by impressing the stamp of uniformity on all its decisions." Georgia Senate Journal, 1847, p. 16.

The General Assembly's last reservations had apparently vanished by 1858 when an act was passed providing that the decisions of the Court have the force of law: ''

[F]rom and after the passage of this act the decisions of the Supreme Court of this State . . . shall not be reversed, overruled or changed; but the same is hereby declared to be, and shall be considered, regarded and observed by all the Courts of this State, as the law of this State, when it has not been changed by legislative enactment, as fully, and to have the same effect, as if the same had been enacted in terms by the General Assembly. Acts of 1858, pp. 74-75.

The Supreme Court's first session was held at Talbotton, Georgia, on January 26,1846. The first three judges chosen by the General Assembly to serve on the Court were Joseph Henry Lumpkin of Athens, Eugenius A. Nisbet of Macon, and Hiram Warner of Greenville. Their salaries were set at $2500.00 per year.

At the time of the creation of the Supreme Court, Georgia's population stood at approximately 800,000. The state was divided into eleven superior court circuits, and the judges of the Supreme Court travelled the state, holding court in nine different localities during the course of the year. Travel, at each judge's own expense, amounted to over 1,000 miles per year, only 300 of which were covered by railroad. Cases were decided at the term submitted; decisions were handed down from the bench orally and only later reduced to writing. The hardships involved in riding the circuit lasted until shortly after the Civil War when the Constitution of 1865 provided that the Court would sit at the seat of government.

The Constitution was amended in 1896 to provide for the addition of three justices to the Court and to provide that justices and the chief justice would be elected by the people. A seventh justice was added by the Constitution of 1945 and since that time the composition of the Court has remained the same.


The 1983 State Constitution provides that the Supreme Court shall be a court of review and shall exercise exclusive appellate jurisdiction in the following cases:


  • all cases involving the construction of a treaty or of the Constitution of the State of Georgia or of the United States and all cases in which the constitutionality of a law, ordinance or constitutional provision has been drawn in question; and
  • all cases of election contest.


  • cases involving title to land;
  • all equity cases;
  • all cases involving wills;
  • all habeas corpus cases;
  • all cases involving extraordinary remedies;
  • all divorce and alimony cases;
  • all cases certified to it by the Court of Appeals, and
  • all cases in which a sentence of death was imposed or could be imposed.

Additionally, the Supreme Court may answer any question of law from any state or federal appellate court and may review by certiorari cases in the Court of Appeals which are of gravity or great public importance.

The Supreme Court has power to make such orders as are necessary in aid of its jurisdiction or to protect or effectuate its judgments.


Clerk. The clerk is appointed by the Court for a term of six years "unless removed for incapacity, improper conduct or neglect of duties." The duties of the clerk are specified by statute and the Rules of the Court. The clerk is the administrative officer of the Court, has charge of the Court's records and keeps its Minutes. The clerk may appoint one or more deputies with the approval of the Court.

Law Assistants. The justices are authorized to appoint law assistants to serve at their pleasure. They must be duly qualified attorneys, licensed to practice law in the State, but they are not permitted to practice while employed by the Court. Their duties are to assist the justices in the research and preparation of opinions for decision by the Court.

Reporter. The reporter of the published opinions of the Court is appointed by the Supreme Court. He serves as the official reporter of the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals. He has the authority to appoint an assistant.

Salaries of all Court employees are fixed by the Court


The Court operates under Rules adopted by it for its administration and for the guidance of the bar and litigants.

These Rules are published in the official reports of the Court and printed copies are available upon request to the clerk.

For the purpose of hearing oral argument the Court sits each month, except August and December. The clerk prepares the calendar of cases to be argued or submitted. The cases are assigned in rotation to the justices for preparation of opinions and decisions of the whole Court.

When a justice prepares an opinion it is circulated for study to the other justices and, after discussion en banc, is either adopted or rejected by a majority. If a justice is unable to serve in a particular case, or is disqualified, a substitute judge may be designated by the Court to serve.



Chief Justices

Chronological List of those who have served on the Court.

Since its creation in 1845, 91 justices have served on the Court. Twenty-seven have served as chief justice. Five of the latter were not members of the Court at the time of their election or appointment as chief justice. Names in italics are the present members of the Court.

J.H. Lumpkin

Hiram Warner

Jos. E. Brown

O.A. Lochrane

James Jackson

Logan E. Bleckley

T. J. Simmons

W. H. Fish

Richard B. Russell

Charles S. Reid

R. C. Bell

W. F. Jenkins

W. H. Duckworth

Bond Almand

1863 - 1867

1867 - 1868 & 1872 - 1880

1868 - 1870

1871 - 1872

1880 - 1887

1887 - 1894

1894 - 1905

1905 - 1923

1923 - 1938

1938 - 1943

1943 - 1946

1946 - 1948

1948 - 1969

1969 - 1972

Carlton Mobley

Benning M. Grice

H. E. Nichols

Hiram K. Undercofler

Robert H. Jordan

Harold N. Hill, Jr.

Thomas O. Marshall

Harold G. Clarke

Charles L. Weltner

Harold G. Clarke

Willis B. Hunt, Jr.

Robert Benham

Norman S. Fletcher

Leah Ward Sears

1972 - 1974

1974 - 1975

1975 - 1980

1980 - 1980

1980 - 1982

1982 - 1986

1986 - 1989

1990 - 1992

1992 - 1992

1992 - 1994

1994 - 1995

1995 - 2001

2001 - 2005


Associate Justices

Jos. H. Lumpkin

Hiram Warner

E. A. Nisbet

E. A. Starnes

H. L. Benning

C. J. McDonald

Linton Stephens

Richard F. Lyon

C. J. Jenkins

D. A. Walker

I. L. Harris

H. K. McCay

W. W. Montgomery

R. P. Trippe

Logan E. Bleckley

James Jackson

M. J. Crawford

W. A. Hawkins

Alex M. Speer

Samuel Hall

M. H. Blandford

T. J. Simmons

Samuel Lumpkin

S. R. Atkinson

Wm. A. Little

Wm. H. Fish

Andrew J. Cobb

Henry T. Lewis

Samuel B. Adams

John S. Candler

Jos. R. Lamar

Henry C. Turner

Beverly D. Evans

Marcus W. Beck

Joseph H. Lumpkin,II

Samuel C. Atkinson

Horace Holden

H. Warner Hill

S. Price Gilbert

Walter F. George

James K. Hines

R. C. Bell

John B. Hutcheson

1845 - 1863

1845-1865 & 1868- 1872

1845 - 1853

1853 - 1855

1853 - 1859

1855 - 1859

1859 - 1860

1859 - 1865

1860 - 1866

1866 - 1868

1866 - 1868

1868 - 1875

1872 - 1873

1873 - 1875

1875 - 1880

1875 - 1880

1880 - 1883

1880 - 1880

1880 - 1882

1882 - 1887

1883 - 1890

1887 - 1894

1891 - 1903

1894 - 1897

1897 - 1903

1897 - 1905

1897 - 1907

1897 - 1902

1902 - 1902

1902 - 1906

1903 - 1905

1903 - 1904

1904 - 1917

1903 - 1937

1905 - 1916

1906 - 1942

1907 - 1911

1911 - 1934

1916 - 1937

1917 - 1922

1922 - 1932

1932-1938 & 1946-1949

1934 - 1938

W. Frank Jenkins

Warren Grice

W. Henry Duckworth

Samuel D. Hewlett

William Y. Atkinson

Lee R. Wyatt

T. Grady Head

Thos. S. Candler

L. C. Groves

J. Harold Hawkins

Bond Almand

Charles W. Worrill

Homer Sutton

Carlton Mobley

Jos. D. Quillian

Benning M. Grice

J. Eugene Cook

H. E. Nichols

Hiram K. Undercofler

John E. Frankum

Jule W. Felton

Peyton Hawes

William B. Gunter

Robert H. Jordan

G. Conley Ingram

Robert H. Hall

Harold N. Hill, Jr.

Jesse G. Bowles

Thomas O. Marshall

Harold G. Clarke

George T. Smith

Hardy Gregory, Jr.

Charles L. Weltner

Richard Bell

Willis B. Hunt, Jr.

Robert Benham

Norman S. Fletcher

Leah Ward Sears

Carol W. Hunstein

George H. Carley

Hugh P. Thompson P.

Harris Hines

Harold D. Melton

1937 - 1948

1937 - 1945

1938 - 1948

1942 - 1942

1943 - 1953

1943 - 1960

1945 - 1965

1945 - 1966

1948 - 1948

1949 - 1960

1949 - 1969

1953 - 1954

1954 - 1954

1954 - 1972

1960 - 1966

1960 - 1974

1965 - 1967

1966-1975 & 1980- 980

1967-1980 & 1980-1981

1967 - 1970

1969 - 1972

1970 - 1973

1972 - 1977

1972 - 1980

1973 - 1977

1974 - 1979

1975 - 1982

1977 - 1981

1977 - 1986

1979 - 1989

1981 - 1991

1981 - 1989

1981 - 1992

1982 - 1992

1986 - 1994

1990 - 1995 & 2001

1990 - 2001










The State Bar of Georgia was created pursuant to an order of the Supreme Court dated December 6, 1963. The State Bar of Georgia was created

( a ) To foster among the members of the Bar of this State the principles of duty and service to the public;

(b) To improve the administration of justice; and

(c) To advance the science of law.

The State Bar of Georgia was created as an administrative arm of the Court with the powers and duties prescribed in the order creating it. Information concerning the State Bar of Georgia may be obtained from its office at 800 The Hurt Bldg., Atlanta, Georgia 30303.


The Supreme Court has the duty of setting standards for admission of attorneys to the practice of law. In keeping with this obligation, the Office of Bar Admissions was established by the Supreme Court and given the responsibility of serving as the Administrative Office for the State Board of Bar Examiners and the Board to Determine Fitness of Bar Applicants.

The Board to Determine Fitness of Bar Applicants investigates the backgrounds of those persons who desire to be admitted to the practice of law in Georgia and recommends to the Board of Bar Examiners only those applicants who possess "the character and moral fitness to practice law...," which recommendation forms a part of the applicant's application for admission to the Bar examination. This Board is composed of both attorneys and lay persons who serve without compensation, other than the reimbursement of travel expenses. The Board to Determine Fitness of Bar Applicants operates primarily from the fees paid by the applicants.

The Board of Bar Examiners is composed of five attorneys, appointed by the Court, who are responsible for the preparation and grading of the Georgia bar examination. This examination is administered twice each year. Fees paid by applicants for the bar examination are paid into the State treasury and all expenses of this Board are paid from the Supreme Court's appropriartion.

Copies of the Rules Governing Admission to the Practice of Law may be obtained by writing the Office of Bar Admissions at P.O. Box 3 8466, Atlanta, Georgia 30334.


The Judicial Qualifications Commission is vested with the power to discipline, remove and cause involuntary retirement of judges, except that no removal or involuntary retirement shall occur except upon order of the Supreme Court after review. The 1983 Georgia Constitution provides that any judge may be removed, suspended or otherwise disciplined for willful misconduct in office, willful and persistent failure to perform the duties of office, habitual intemperance, conviction of a crime involving moral turpitude, or for conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice which brings the judicial office into disrepute, and that any judge may be retired for disability which constitutes a serious and likely permanent interference with the performance of the duties of office. It further provides that the Supreme Court shall adopt rules of implementation.

The Commission consists of seven members: two judges of courts of record, selected by the Supreme Court; three attorneys who have practiced law in this State for at least ten years, elected by the Board of Governors of the State Bar; and two citizens who are not members of the State Bar, appointed by the Governor. For information concerning the Judicial Qualifications Commission, contact Cheryl Custer, Director, 8206 Hazelbrand Road, Suite C, Covington, Georgia 30014.


The Judicial Council of Georgia was established pursuant to Georgia Laws 1973 and came under the Supreme Court's auspices in 1978. The Judicial Council assists the Supreme Court in planning, policy and administrative matters. The Council is composed of a member or members representing the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals, the superior courts, the state courts, the probate courts, the juvenile courts and the magistrate courts.

The Administrative Office of the Courts provides assistance to the Judicial Council and is responsible for studying the courts, assisting court personnel and making recommendations for improvement of the judicial system. For more information contact the Administrative Office of the Courts, Suite 550, 244 Washington St., S.W., Atlanta, Georgia 30334.


In response to the challenges presented by the perceived decline in lawyer professionalism, the Supreme Court of Georgia and the State Bar of Georgia embarked upon a long-range project to raise the professionalism aspirations of lawyers and judges in the state. In early 1989, the Georgia Supreme Court, acting through the State Bar of Georgia, established the Chief Justice's Commission on Professionalism. The Commission, the first such body of its kind in the country, has as its primary charge ensuring that the practice of law remains a high calling, enlisted in the service not only of the client, but the public good as well.

The activities of the Commission are as follows:

(1) working with continuing legal education sponsors to coordinate the production of professionalism courses and materials

(2) developing in-house law firm training programs and judicial professionalism programs

(3) coordinating the production of State Bar Journal columns and articles

(4) developing a data base of professionalism materials for CLE providers and other interested organizations, groups and individuals

(5) developing mentoring programs for both lawyers and law students, working with the American Law Institute, the Atlanta Jewish Federation, the Atlanta Bar Association, the Georgia Indigent Defense Council and other interested organizations

(6) serving as liaison to the Joint Commission on Alternative Dispute Resolution

(7) planning the Annual Professionalism Convocation

(8) producing videotapes for use by state and national CLE providers

(9) participating in American Bar Association activities concerning professionalism

( 10) assisting the State Bar Committee on Professionalism in accomplishing its goals

( 11 ) such other activities as are developed by the Commission.

The Commission is chaired by the Chief Justice and has as members representatives of the judiciary, the practicing bar, the four ABA-approved law schools and the public. The Commission is staffed by a Director, an Assistant Director and an Administrative Assistant, and may be reached at the State Bar Offices, 800 the Hurt Building.


In October of 1992, the Georgia Supreme Court created the Georgia Commission on Dispute Resolution to develop and oversee a comprehensive statewide system of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) to complement the existing system of justice. The Commission is charged with the following duties and responsibilities:

  • to administer a statewide comprehensive ADR program;
  • to oversee the development and ensure the quality of all court-annexed or court-referred ADR programs;
  • to certify court programs;
  • to develop guidelines for court-annexed or court-referred programs;
  • to develop criteria for training and qualifications of neutrals;
  • to establish standards of conduct for neutrals
  • The Georgia Supreme Court also created the Georgia Office of Dispute Resolution to implement the policies of the Commission. The responsibilities of the Georgia Office of Dispute Resolution include the following:
  • to serve as a resource for ADR education and research;
  • to provide technical assistance to new and existing court-annexed or court-referred programs at no charge;
  • to develop the capability of providing training to neutrals in courts throughout the state at no charge;
  • to implement the Commission's policies regarding qualification of neutrals and quality of programs;
  • to certify and decertify neutrals who will serve in court programs;
  • to collect statistics from court-annexed or court-referred programs in order to monitor the effectiveness of various programs throughout the state.

For more information contact: Ansley Boyd Barton, Director


On December 3,1992, the Supreme Court issued an order creating the Supreme Court Committee for Gender Equality (Committee) and the Supreme Court Office of Gender Equality (Office) which will assist the Committee in implementing its plans and policies. In addition to submitting a written annual report on the discharge of its duties, the Committee is to:

  • formulate and propose guidelines, standards and procedures for implementing recommendations of the Georgia Commission on Gender Bias in the Judicial System (Commission);
  • develop appropriate education course material and/or programs to be included in new judge and new lawyer orientation programs;
  • develop and participate in programs for professional and lay audiences;
  • serve as a resource to the media;
  • advocate legislation needed to further the aims of the Commission;
  • seek funding for the Committee and the Office;
  • facilitate a plan to educate the public on the dynamics of the cycle of domestic violence, resources for victims, and protection available under Georgia law;
  • develop a mechanism for processing complaints received about judges' and lawyers' gander-biased behaviors;
  • work with the Judicial Nominating Commission to encourage more women and men who can relate well with professional women and who understand the issues to apply for appointments as judges;
  • act as a resource to Georgia law schools in revising teaching curricula to promote the elimination of gender-biased conduct on the part of attorneys.

On February 1, 1993, the Supreme Court issued an order creating the Commission on Racial and Ethnic Bias in the court system. The Commission has been given the authority to consider the interests of all minority and ethnic groups residing in the state. The responsibilities of the Commission are to:

  • ascertain the perception of the public and the courts on the treatment of minorities and ethnic groups by the judicial system;
  • determine the extent to which these groups use the court system voluntarily;
  • study the administration and personnel policies of the courts including the selection and employment processes for the judicial system positions;
  • investigate the impact of bias on both criminal and civil justice processes;
  • report the Commission's findings to the Supreme Court.

On December 14,1995, these Commissions were combined to form the Equality Commission. For more information contact Marla S. Moore, Executive Director of the Office of the Equality Commission, Suite 550, 244 Washington Street, S.W., Atlanta, GA 30334-5900 (404)656-5171.


Under the 1983 Constitution of Georgia the judicial power of the State is vested in these classes of courts: magistrate courts, probate courts, juvenile courts, state courts, superior courts, Court of Appeals, and Supreme Court. Also, the General Assembly may authorize or establish municipal courts, and those municipal courts, county recorder's courts, civil courts and administrative agencies in existence on June 30, 1983, may continue with the same jurisdiction until otherwise provided by law. Each county is to have at least one superior court, magistrate court, probate court, and where needed a state court and a juvenile court. In the absence of a state court or a juvenile court, the superior court exercises that jurisdiction.


See The Court's Jurisdiction


The Court of Appeals was established by a constitutional amendment in 1906. Under the 1983 Constitution it is a court of review and exercises appellate and certiorari jurisdiction in all cases not reserved to the Supreme Court.

The twelve judges of the Court sit in three divisions of three judges each for hearing and determining cases, except that when one of the three judges dissents the case is considered by the full Court.

Court of Appeals judges are elected statewide on a nonpartisan basis for six year terms. If a vacancy occurs it is filled by appointment of the Governor until the next general election. As to qualifications for judges of the Court of Appeals, the 1983 Constitution requires that they shall have been admitted to practice law for seven years and provides that the General Assembly may provide by law for additional qualifications, including a minimum residency requirement.


The superior courts are trial courts of general jurisdiction. They have exclusive jurisdiction over trials in felony cases, except in the case of juvenile offenders as provided by law; in cases respecting title to land; in divorce cases; and in equity cases. Also, they have such appellate jurisdiction as may be provided by law.

The counties are divided into 46 judicial circuits, each of which has at least one judge. Some circuits are single county circuits and others are comprised of two or more counties. Sessions of court must be held in each county at least twice a year. The total number of superior court judges is 159. The number of judges per circuit ranges from one to 15.

Superior court judges are elected on a nonpartisan basis in circuit-wide elections for four year terms. They must have been admitted to practice law for seven years and must reside in the geographical area in which they are selected to serve. Also, the General Assembly may provide by law for additional qualifications.


These are courts of county-wide jurisdiction (except for one which encompasses two counties). There are 87 state courts. They have uniform jurisdiction as provided by law.

State court judges must have been admitted to practice law for five years and must reside in the geographical area in which they are selected to serve. Also, the General Assembly may provide by law for additional qualifications.


Each county has a juvenile court. Some have separate juvenile court judges; in the others a judge of the superior court or the state court sits as juvenile court judge.

Juvenile courts have exclusive original jurisdiction over juvenile matters except where the act alleged is a capital offense.

Juvenile court judges must have been admitted to the practice of law for five years and must reside in the geographical area in which they are selected to serve. Also, the General Assembly may provide by law for additional qualifications.


Probate courts, formerly called courts of ordinary, have original and exclusive jurisdiction of probate of wills, administration of estates, appointment of guardians, issuance of lunacy commissions, and issuance of marriage licenses. They also supervise the printing of election ballots and the counting of votes, and in some counties have jurisdiction over traffic and compulsory school attendance laws.

Each county has a probate court with one probate judge who is elected for a term of four years. Qualifications for this office vary. In larger counties it is required that the probate judge be an attorney.


Under the 1983 Constitution, justice of the peace courts, small claims courts and one county court became magistrate courts. These courts have uniform jurisdiction as provided by law. At present this jurisdiction includes contract cases and personal property damage, injury, or conversion cases where the amount involved does not exceed a set amount. Also, in criminal cases they may issue warrants and sit as courts of inquiry, binding the accused over to a higher court or discharging him, and they may administer oaths, take affidavits and perform marriages.

Magistrate court judges are elected for four year terms by the voters of their respective counties.


There are also remaining as part of the state court system various municipal courts, civil courts and county recorder's courts. Their jurisdiction and the qualifications and selection of their judges vary.

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