Fulton County State Court Judge Susan Forsling submitted her resignation to Governor Nathan Deal on Friday.
"After prayerful consideration," wrote Forsling, "I hereby tender my resignation as judge of the State Court of Fulton County effective upon the close of business July 1, 2013."
In an interview, Forsling noted that she started work with the Fulton County Attorney’s Office on July 1, 1980, so she will leave service after exactly 33 years, with 16 years on the bench.
"I’m ready for a new stage," she said.
In her letter, Forsling asked the governor to appoint her as a senior judge so that she could hear cases in the Superior Court as needed, and she said she was considering pursuing a mediation practice.
"I also want to pursue my ministry," said Forsling, who teaches Bible study at Johnson Ferry Baptist Church and is preparing for her fifth trip abroad as part of a prison ministry that has taken her to Thailand and Kenya.
Forsling, 57, was appointed to the bench by Governor Zell Miller in 1997. A University of Georgia law school graduate, she is married to Schreeder, Wheeler & Flint partner Mark Forsling.
Judge Forsling was in the news last year when her longtime case manager was discovered to have stashed thousands of court files and documents in his office and elsewhere over more than a decade. On Friday she said that incident was not related to her decision, adding that she had been considering the move for some time.
"Nothing brought it on except time," said Forsling. "I maxed out on my pension several years ago, and I’m just ready to do other things."
Forsling’s resignation provides Deal’s first opportunity to appoint a judge to the Fulton County State Court bench, though he has appointed two Superior Court judges: his former executive counsel, Todd Markle, was named to that court in July 2011, and former federal prosecutor Robert McBurney was appointed in February 2012.
Other candidates on the shortlist for the judgeship McBurney won included Shingler Lewis partner Joyce Gist Lewis and Fulton County Assistant District Attorney Robert Wolf; candidates for the McBurney shortlist included Lewis, Fulton County Magistrate Melynee Leftridge, and Atlanta solo Chloe Dallaire.
The Daily Report was able to contact only Dallaire by press-time; she said she had since moved to DeKalb County, so she wouldn’t be eligible for the seat.
Only two other Fulton State judges have been on the bench longer than Forsling: Judge Patsy Porter and Chief Judge John Mather, both of whom were appointed in 1996.
"I think Susan and I were both trying to be judges at about the same time, sort of competing for the same slots," recalled Mather. "I remember running into her at one of our first judges’ seminars together, and we immediately clicked; we’ve always gotten along very well."
Mather said he was stunned when informed of Forsling’s decision.
"Susan came by this morning and told me she’d submitted her resignation, and I was speechless for a few minutes," Mather said. "Then I was sad, and then I said, ‘No, this is a good thing for you.’ "
Mather said Forsling had labored intensely to clean up the backlog of cases discovered last year.
"She’s a very hard-working judge," Mather said. "She’s worked very hard to make sure her civil and criminal case load is current, and that they’ll be current once she leaves the bench. She’s done a great job running the DUI Court; she’ll be missed."
Forsling said she was gratified by the opportunities her judicial duties and overseas ministries had offered to help people suffering from drug and alcohol addiction, and her letter to the governor referenced that work.
"One of the most rewarding aspects of my career has been founding our DUI Court program and serving as the presiding judge of that court since 2007," wrote Forsling. "We have been privileged to help hundreds of men and women reclaim their lives and I thank you for your support and advocacy on behalf of accountability courts throughout the State of Georgia."
Forsling said she began participating in the international prison ministry about four years ago and has visited an adult women’s prison and a juvenile prison in Thailand, and two prisons in Nairobi, Kenya.
"You have to have contacts on the ground to give you entrée," she said, "then they let you go in and share the message and gifts and song, even some one-on-one time with the prisoners."