The man who has led the courts through COVID-19 will be retiring from the Supreme Court of Georgia on July 1, 2021. Chief Justice Harold Melton said that he doesn’t yet know what he will do next, but that he is exploring opportunities “for the next season of life that will allow me to best serve our legal community and my extended family.”
In recent months, Melton has spearheaded the legal community’s effort to ensure that justice is not forgotten while battling the pandemic’s effect on state courts. He has renewed a Declaration of Judicial Emergency every 30 days that provides for what courts can and cannot do.
Yes, there is a backlog in civil and criminal cases. Clients, victims, and even some defendants are eager to get into court. Justice Melton’s orders have allowed our courts to deal with the most serious matters first. Videoconferencing, masked courtrooms, and scheduling have been helpful and efficient.
The underlying cause of the backlog is COVID-19; not the courts.
Without some of the provisionswithin these emergency orders, citizens in west Georgia could be called for jury duty. While we have rather large courtrooms, people would still be at risk of getting COVID-19. Since we have a duty to serve on a jury until we are 70 years old, that would place a lot of people in jeopardy.
I have not agreed with everything that he has ordered. But, Chief Justice Melton has shown strong leadership through this crisis within the justice system and has tirelessly worked to keep justice afloat. He is also a good man. We are fortunate that he will be on the Court until mid-summer.
Since he is leaving in the middle of his judicial term, the governor will appoint a replacement.
Well, who is Harold Melton?
A 1984 graduate of Joseph Wheeler High School in Marietta, Georgia, Melton received a Bachelor of Science from Auburn University and his law degree from the University of Georgia.
Prior to joining the Court, Melton spent eleven years in the Georgia Department of Law. During that time, he met a state senator from Bonaire who wanted to be the first Republican governor of Georgia since the 1860’s.
The senator accomplished his goal. When Sonny Perdue was elected in 2004, Melton served as his Executive Counsel.
Melton was appointed to the Court by Governor Sonny Perdue on July 1, 2005, to fill a vacancy on the bench created by the retirement of Justice Norman S. Fletcher. His appointment marked the first time a Republican governor had made an appointment to the Supreme Court since Governor Rufus B. Bullock selected Justices Joseph E. Brown and H. K. McCay In 1868.
He was sworn in as Chief Justice on September 4, 2018 by former Chief Justice Harris Hines.
Chief Justice Melton is 54 years young. While he is looking toward the next chapter in life, I am convinced that he will continue to lead in the battle against COVID-19. The reasoning lies within his character, work ethic, and a statement he made on Friday, February 12th, 2021, “The Court is well-positioned to continue the high calling that has clearly been set before us. I have such a peace and confidence that justice will continue to be served.”
Thank you, Chief Justice. You have always served with honor.