Former Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears had to overcome multiple systemic barriers including racism and misogyny, but a personal setback – divorce – is something that profoundly shaped her. In this episode of Bouncing Back, Justice Sears shares with Rebecca Glatzer how she came to terms with her divorce and to accept that she could not control—or fix—everything in her life.
With decades of experience as an attorney, a jurist and an elected official, Justice Leah Ward Sears, a Partner in the Litigation Section of Smith, Gambrell & Russell, LLP, brings a powerful combination of strategy, analytical thinking and tactical action that gives her clients a compelling edge in complex litigation, appeal, and arbitration and mediation.
Recognized as one of Georgia’s leading legal luminaries and role models, Ms. Sears broke numerous barriers in her swift rise to the highest court in Georgia. When she was elected to the Superior Court of Fulton County, she became the first woman to ever serve on that court. Later she was appointed, and then elected, to serve as a Justice on the Supreme Court of Georgia — again, the first woman as well as the youngest jurist ever on that court.
She rose to Presiding Justice and in 2005 her colleagues elevated her to Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court, where she served until retiring from the bench in 2009. During her tenure at the Georgia Supreme Court, Ms. Sears spearheaded an effort to establish the Georgia Office of Dispute Resolution, which is a policy-making body under the auspices of the Georgia Supreme Court that oversees the development of court-connected alternative dispute resolution (ADR) programs in Georgia. She also chaired the Judicial Council of Georgia and was a member of the Board of Directors of the National Conference of Chief Justices.
Since returning to private practice, Ms. Sears has concentrated on prosecuting appeals in both the state and federal courts in many jurisdictions across the United States. This often means embedding with the trial team to develop and execute pretrial and trial strategy, build credible evidence, and begin positioning for an appeal while the trial is underway by preserving evidence and proactively looking for narrowly focused issues at trial that will help protect a hard-fought victory or overturn an unfavorable outcome.
Ms. Sears earned an advanced degree (LLM) in Appellate Judicial Studies from the University of Virginia Law School, and she completed a Juris Doctorate (JD) at Emory University School of Law. She also holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Cornell University.
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