Outgoing Georgia chief justice gets a farewell tribute in Supreme Court

Georgia Chief Justice Harold Melton
Georgia Chief Justice Harold Melton(WRDW)
Updated: Jun. 9, 2021 at 1:51 PM EDT
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ATLANTA (WRDW/WAGT) - Chief Justice Harold D. Melton sat Wednesday for the last time on the bench of the Georgia Supreme Court as he and colleagues heard oral arguments for the first time in more than a year.

After 30 years of service to the state and 16 years on the Supreme Court, he will leave the court at the end of the month.

In a tribute, Presiding Justice David E. Nahmias, who becomes chief justice July 1, said no one has embodied more than Melton the qualities Socrates described nearly 2,500 years ago as essential for a judge:

“To hear courteously; to answer wisely; to consider soberly; and to decide impartially.”

Nahmias said: “Those qualities have been on display from the start of Chief Justice Melton’s work on this court’s cases, which is what most people think about when they consider the work that we do.”

Nahmias said Melton “is unfailingly courteous on the bench and in his other dealings with counsel and colleagues.”

Nahmias went on to say Melton:

  • Has an ability to cut to the legal heart of cases in opinions that come with a heavy dose of common sense.
  • “Never, ever loses his cool.”
  • Is invariably impartial, doing justice “without respect to person and equally for the poor and the rich, just like he swore he would do when he became a judge.”

But those qualities particularly have been on display during the last 15 months when Chief Justice Melton has been at the helm through the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This has been a real crisis,” Nahmias said, describing the pandemic as the greatest crisis to face our judicial system in generations.

“And in a crisis, a lot of people get really riled up about all kinds of things. But Chief Justice Melton never did. In the course of many vigorous discussions over the past 15 months, I’ve never heard him raise his voice or express a cross word about anyone. He is always a calming presence. And he strived, and I think he has succeeded, in deciding many hard questions impartially, balancing as fairly as possible the often competing interests of people involved in all the different aspects of our justice system,” Nahmias said.

Melton has had to issue and renew judicial emergencies throughout the pandemic, first shutting down and eventually reopening jury trials. Just this week, he extended the emergency to the end of the month but noted it could end sooner at the governor’s behest and would likely be the last one.

Nahmias concluded his tribute a bit choked up, as many in the courtroom wiped their eyes and gave a standing ovation for Melton.

In a very brief response, Melton said that “one of the greatest blessings is being able to work with people you admire, love, care about, who care about you, and make you better.”

Speaking directly to court staff members and others gathered in the courtroom, he said: “It’s been a great journey and a great blessing and I hope I’ve made y’all as happy as you all have made me, so thank you.”

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