Former Ga. Supreme Court Chief Justice Dies Of COVID-19

By Rosie Manins
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Law360 (November 28, 2020, 3:09 PM EST) -- Former Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice George H. Carley, a state jurist for more than three decades, died on Thanksgiving as a result of COVID-19, the court announced Friday. He was 82.

"We are devastated by the loss of Justice Carley, a beloved friend and colleague to so many of us," Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold D. Melton said in a press release. "Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Sandy, his son, George H. Carley Jr., and his two grandsons."

Justice Melton said Justice Carley, who served on the Georgia Supreme Court from 1993 to 2012, died "from COVID-19" about 11 p.m. Thursday at an Atlanta hospital.

Justice Carley was the first in Georgia to serve as presiding judge and chief judge of the Georgia Court of Appeals and as presiding justice and chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court, Justice Melton said.

Justice Carley served on the state intermediate appellate court from 1979 until 1993, when he was appointed to the Georgia Supreme Court by then Gov. Zell Miller. In May 2012, he was sworn in as the 29th chief justice, serving in the state's highest judicial capacity until the end of that year when his term in office ended.

"Besides his family, he loved two things: the Georgia Bulldogs and the court," Justice Melton said in his press release. "A stickler for protocol, he was known for never appearing in public without being 'properly attired' in a coat and tie."

Justice Carley received his law degree from the University of Georgia School of Law in 1962 and worked briefly for Atlanta law firm Hansell Post Brandon & Dorsey and as an attorney for the U.S. Public Housing Administration before starting a solo practice, according to his Georgia Supreme Court biography.

He served in the Georgia House of Representatives in 1966 and in the 1970s was partner-in-charge of litigation at the firm McCurdy & Candler LLC. He also served as a special assistant attorney general, handling eminent domain cases for the Georgia Department of Transportation.

Appointed to the Georgia Court of Appeals in April 1979 by then Gov. George Busbee, Justice Carley was elected to a full six-year term in 1980 and reelected in the 1986 and 1992 general elections. He served as chief judge of the intermediate appellate court from 1989 to 1990 and was a presiding judge from 1991 until his appointment to the Georgia Supreme Court in 1993.

Justice Carley was elected to a six-year term on the state's highest court in 1994 and reelected in 2000 and 2006. Gov. Miller swore him in as presiding justice in July 2009.

Tributes to Justice Carley were shared on social media by many prominent members of Georgia's legal community.

Georgia Attorney General Christopher Carr wrote on Twitter that Justice Carley was a wonderful jurist and great public servant.

"He truly lived by the motto 'not for ourselves, but for others'," Carr said.

Georgia Court of Appeals Presiding Judge Stephen Louis A. Dillard tweeted that Justice Carley was a judicial giant "and an even better man."

"I'll miss my friend," Judge Dillard said. "Requiescat in pace."

Georgia Supreme Court Justice Charles J. Bethel remembered Justice Carley as a "dear friend, a faithful mentor, a brilliant jurist and a dedicated public servant."

Justice Carla Wong McMillian highlighted Justice Carley's long involvement with the Georgia and national high school mock trial community, sharing photographs of him crowning the state champion in 2016.

The National High School Mock Trial Championship posted a statement online in response to Justice Carley's death, calling him a "leading light" of the movement and civics education in general. Justice Carley served on the organization's board of directors.

"Justice Carley was a tireless advocate for students and a treasured judge at many a national championships, accompanied always by his beloved, Sandy," the organization said.

"He knew how to connect with the students with his Southern charm and sense of humor," said former board chair and Arizona Superior Court Judge Dewain Fox. "Justice Carley was a mock trial icon, and he will be truly missed!"

Former Georgia State Bar President Lester Tate of Akin & Tate PC said on Twitter that "a great oak has fallen in the forest".

"It is hard to imagine anyone having had more influence over Georgia law and policy or a kinder, more decent man," Tate said. "George Carley was a gentleman, a scholar and a friend."

The coronavirus has claimed the lives of several Georgia probate judges since April, as well as a Georgia superior court judge and a probate court deputy clerk, according to the Council of Probate Court Judges of Georgia.

The Georgia Department of Public Health reported Saturday that there have been more than 416,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 8,746 related deaths in the state since the pandemic began in March.

--Editing by Jill Coffey.

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