Leah Ward Sears 80L
Smith, Gambrell & Russell
In the course of her endeavors, Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears has achieved a distinguished position in Georgia's history. She was the youngest person and first woman to serve as a superior court judge in Fulton County, Georgia; and, when appointed to the Supreme Court by Governor Zell Miller, she became the first woman and youngest person ever to serve on that court. In retaining her appointed position as a Supreme Court justice, Chief Justice Sears also became the first woman to win a contested statewide election in Georgia. In July 2005 she became the first woman to serve as chief justice of the Supreme Court of Georgia.
Prior to serving on the Georgia Supreme Court, Chief Justice Sears was a trial judge on the Superior Court of Fulton County, Georgia. Before being elected to the bench, she was a practicing attorney with Alston & Bird and, at the age of 27, she served as a judge on the City Court of Atlanta.
Chief Justice Sears received her undergraduate degree from Cornell University in 1976 and her JD from Emory University School of Law in 1980. She earned an LLM in appellate judicial process from the University of Virginia in 1994 and has LLDs from Morehouse College, John Marshall University, Clark-Atlanta University, LaGrange College, and Piedmont College. She is also the recipient of the Emory Medal, Emory University's highest honor.
Chief Justice Sears's professional and civic affiliations are varied and numerous. She founded and served as the first president of the Georgia Association of Black Women Attorneys and founded the Battered Women's Project in Columbus, Georgia. Chief Justice Sears is a member of the National Association of Women Judges, the Atlanta Chapter of Links, the United States Supreme Court Historical Society, and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority. In 2006 she was selected by Law Dragon as one of the 500 Leading Judges in America. She also delivered the prestigious Brennan Lecture at New York University in 2007.
In 2009 Chief Justice Sears retired from the Supreme Court of Georgia after 27 years of service in the judiciary. After her retirement, she joined Schiff Hardin in its Atlanta office as a partner in the Litigation Group. In addition to practicing law, Chief Justice Sears dedicated her first year off the bench to working on issues in family law. She is a visiting professor in family law at the University of Georgia School of Law, and she also serves as the William Thomas Sears Distinguished Fellow in Family Law at the Institute for American Values.
She was elected to the Emory University Board of Trustees as an alumni trustee in June 2010 and a term trustee in 2016.