For The Record

Georgia Supreme Court chief heads to big law firm as he leaves bench

By: - June 29, 2021 4:36 pm

Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold Melton announced Tuesday he is entering private practice after spending 16 years with the state’s highest court. Stanley Dunlap/Georgia Recorder

Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold Melton will enter private practice with a national law firm after stepping down from the state’s highest court on Thursday.

Troutman Pepper announced Tuesday that starting July 19, Melton will partner with the firm after serving three decades in state government with the last 16 years on the Georgia Supreme Court.

The shift into business litigation comes after Melton ushered state courts into the return to in-person proceedings following a year-and-half of statewide judicial orders that restricted how courts operated because of the COVID-19 public health crisis. 

Considered by some a potential candidate for the U.S. Senate for the 2022 election, Melton’s decision to join Troutman appears to end speculation he will mount a political campaign next year.

But Melton said Tuesday even when he announced his retirement from the bench in February, entering the field of politics wasn’t a career priority. 

The 54-year-old Melton said he considered other options.

“I did look at other opportunities and explore other possibilities but ultimately (private practices) is what got the most traction,” Melton said in an interview with the Georgia Recorder soon after Troutman Pepper announced his addition. “And then it was just a matter of finding the right firm. I believe Troutman Pepper is the right firm in terms of the quality of work, the quality of people and in the collaborative team approach that they take in doing business.”

Melton was appointed to the Supreme Court in 2005 by Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue and became chief justice in 2018. Prior to that Melton served as an assistant attorney general for the Georgia Department of Law and was Perdue’s executive counsel. 

“Chief Justice Melton is a distinguished leader who has served our state for nearly three decades,” said Troutman Pepper Chair Steve Lewis. “We are delighted to welcome him to Troutman Pepper where we are certain our clients will benefit from his experience and expertise, particularly in appellate litigation and state attorneys general matters.”

Melton’s transition to private practice is the same path recently taken by former Justice Keith Blackwell, who returned to work with an Atlanta firm after eight years with the state’s top court.

June 9 marked Melton’s last day on the Supreme Court bench, as the courtroom reopened for oral arguments for the first time since spring 2020. Melton remarked how close he became with many of his bench colleagues and other court staff during the longest stretch at one job he’s ever worked.

“I do get attached to the people I work with,” Melton said in an interview earlier this month. “When you go through something as stressful as a pandemic, you get even closer, and you appreciate each other even more. I’ve got no complaints about how they have treated me here. They’ve given me everything I’ve needed to succeed.”

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Stanley Dunlap
Stanley Dunlap

Stanley Dunlap has covered government and politics for news outlets in Georgia and Tennessee for the past decade. At The (Macon) Telegraph he told readers about Macon-Bibb County’s challenges implementing its recent consolidation, with a focus on ways the state Legislature determines the fate of local communities. He used open records requests to break a story of a $400 million pension sweetheart deal a county manager steered to a friendly consultant. The Georgia Associated Press Managing Editors named Stanley a finalist for best deadline reporting for his story on the death of Gregg Allman and best beat reporting for explanatory articles on the 2018 Macon-Bibb County budget deliberations. The Tennessee Press Association honored him for his reporting on the disappearance of Holly Bobo, which became a sensational murder case that generated national headlines.

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