With the swearing in of three new judges in the Georgia House of Representatives chamber Monday, Gov. Nathan Deal wrapped up his final session administering the oath of office to new jurists, a duty he has performed dozens of times in a legacy that will shape the state’s judiciary for years to come.
As is his custom, after officiating at the ceremony for Henry County State Court Judge Pandora Palmer and Fulton Superior Court Judges Rachel Krause and Emily Richardson, Deal presented all three with a plaque sporting a gavel crafted by Georgia prison inmates.
The gavels should serve as a constant reminder, said Deal, that “redeeming social values” are to be found even among those sentenced for their misdeeds.
Deal himself has earned plaudits for his efforts to reform the state’s criminal justice system, and as he closed he said his longtime chief of staff, Chris Riley, had requested a few moments to speak.
“I don’t know what he’s going to say,” Deal said.
Noting that it was Deal’s last appointment ceremony, Riley said Deal had made 166 justice system appointments over his eight years in office, including six state Supreme Court justices, 15 Court of Appeals judges, 65 state and superior court judges, 10 district attorneys, 25 solicitors general and one attorney general.
Riley then produced another plaque, also bearing a gavel.
“Governor Deal, this gavel was also made by inmates of our prison system to say thank you for the qualities of justice” embodied in the governor’s reforms and appointments, Riley said.
Clearly pleased, Deal couldn’t resist a quip as he turned to the newly-minted judges at his side.
“Mine’s bigger than yours,” he said with a grin.
Deal has been subject to criticism for the lack of diversity among his judicial appointments. All three of the new judges are women, although all are also white.
Palmer, who was appointed to fill the seat of retiring State Court Judge James Chafin III, is a member of both the State Bar of Georgia and the State Bar of Hawaii.
Palmer said that her mother had passed away many years ago and that her father could not attend for health reasons. She credited both with instilling a deep respect for education within her.
“I was the first in my family to attend college and the first to go to law school,” said Palmer, who earned her law degree at Georgia State University and joined the Georgia bar in 1994.
Palmer spent several years in private practice specializing in family law, criminal and personal injury law and civil litigation, according to her online biography. She spent a couple of years at the Domestic Violence Clearinghouse and Legal Hotline in Maui and did a short stint with what was then Millar, Mixon and Hunt in Jonesboro.
She spent several years with Smith, Welch, Webb, & White, which has multiple offices in the Henry County and south metro area, before launching her own practice, Pandora C. Palmer P.C., in McDonough, in 2012, where she has remained until her appointment to the bench.
Rachel Krause was most recently a partner at national litigation firm Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith. She replaces Judge Todd Markle, whom Deal appointed to the Court of Appeals. He beamed from his seat in the chamber as she was sworn in.
Krause attended undergraduate school at Georgia Southern University and earned her law degree from the Walter F. George School of Law at Mercer University.
Krause moved from Macon 10 years ago to sign on with Lewis Brisbois, where she specialized in health disability and ERISA defense law.
Krause was introduced by a friend from her Mercer law days, Amber Nickell, who recalled that Krause had been voted “Most likely to argue with a judge” by her classmates.
Krause, who uses a wheelchair, explained that she had been injured in a traffic accident when she was 17.
“Whey you’re 17, you want to rebel,” said Krause, recalling that she had complained to her mother that she did want to be constrained, that she wanted “a normal life.”
Her mother spurred her to greater efforts, she said.
“She said, ‘Don’t shoot for normal. Be more,’” said Krause, who was accompanied by her husband, Thomas, and three daughters.
Krause said she was especially pleased to have been tapped by Deal, “who’s done so much for education and criminal justice reform,” she said.
“He is also a Mercer Law School graduate … the best law school,” she said with a grin.
Richardson was a senior prosecutor with the DeKalb County District Attorney’s office until Deal tapped her to take the seat of retiring Superior Court Judge John Goger.
She was introduced by her old boss, former Douglas County DA Brian Fortner, who was himself named to the county’s superior court last year.
Fortner recalled that, when she was with the Douglas DA’s office, Richardson served as both a valuable member of the trial team and as his “moral compass,” who appeared more than 16 times before the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals.
Richardson earned her undergraduate degree at Duke University and graduated from Emory University School of Law, joining the state bar in 2006. She is the mother of a young daughter.
Richardson said DeKalb DA Sherry Boston “always reminds the people in her office that we are doing the people’s work and what a privilege it is to do so.”
Expressing gratitude to her new colleagues on the Fulton bench who have welcomed and assisted her, Richardson said she was “excited and honored” to be a member.
“And I will work my tail off to be the best judge I can be,” she vowed.