Georgia Chief Justice Harold Melton talks to attendees at the 2018 Eliminating Barries to Justice Conference. He was the keynote speaker at the event. (Photo: John Disney/ALM) Georgia Chief Justice Harold Melton (Photo: John Disney/ALM)

Cartoon characters saved the day in a story about Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold Melton published in the current issue of the University of Georgia magazine.

“Walking into the office of the Supreme Court of Georgia’s chief justice, with its wood-paneled walls and marble nameplate, you feel a sense of awe and perhaps a bit out-of-place in your blue jeans,” writer Leigh Beeson began. “Then you see Shaggy, Velma, and Scooby-Doo as the background of the chief justice’s computer, and you know he doesn’t take himself too seriously.”

Beeson went on to paint a vivid portrait of the chief. He described the value of his preparation at the University of Georgia School of Law. “I joke that I was in the top of the middle of the class, but I really do feel like they prepared me on the knowledge of the law and the exposure to the culture of the legal community, which is just as important,” he said.

He remembered his first job after graduating from law school, working for Attorney General Mike Bowers. He started off in property tax law at a time when the government was reassessing values.

“We were going across the state making sure counties updated their values, and then the local communities were howling because the values had gone up,” he says. “So I got to walk into these remote counties throughout the state and say, ‘Hi, I’m from Atlanta. I’m the guy that’s trying to make your tax base go up,’” he recalled.

He revealed insight into the beginning of the criminal justice reform movement before Gov. Nathan Deal took the top office, back when Melton was executive counsel to Gov. Sonny Perdue.

“If we kept up with those incarceration rates, we would probably have to build one prison per year or close to it,” Melton said. “It just wasn’t sustainable. And we also realized that, when you incarcerate somebody, that has an impact on the person, but it also has an impact on the families, the household that person came from.”

The treatment courts that spread across the state during Deal’s eight years in office turned the trend around, with the number of prisoners—and the prison budget—dropping instead of increasing. Melton said in his state of the judiciary speech this month that he wants to take the movement a step further and begin interventions in schools to keep young people on track early in life.

Before she left, Beeson solved the mystery of the colorful screen saver.

“As for the case of the Scooby-Doo backdrop, his 18-year-old daughter was found guilty,” Beeson wrote.

She ended with this.

“I took my new computer home,” Melton laughed. “Within two minutes she had Scooby on there.”

In addition to the Spring 2019 printed issue, the article can be found online at UGA Today.