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Third Superior Court judge named
Deal taps Smith for opening; Abernathy appointed to State Court bench

Philip Smith has been tapped to fill Forsyth County’s third Superior Court judgeship.

Gov. Nathan Deal announced the appointment of Smith, who serves as chief State Court judge, on Monday afternoon.

Deal also selected Leslie Abernathy, Forsyth’s solicitor general, to fill Smith’s vacancy on the State Court bench in Forsyth.

Both appointments will take effect upon swearing in, which has not been set.

The Bell-Forsyth Judicial Circuit, which is composed solely of Forsyth County, received the third Superior Court judge with the passage of Senate Bill 356 during the 2012 Georgia General Assembly.

Smith will join sitting Forsyth County Superior Court Judges Jeffrey Bagley and David Dickinson.

The 10-year State Court judge said he “feel[s] at home” in Superior Court, where he got his start as the county’s first district attorney when the circuit was created in 1998.

Smith expects the new judgeship to be more work, but welcomes the challenge.

“Personally, I consider it to be a learning opportunity. It’s always a rewarding line of work any time that you can learn things every day,” he said. “I’m just looking forward to broadening that.”

Smith earned his bachelor’s degree from Vanderbilt University and his law degree from the University of Georgia. He and his wife, Pamela, live in Cumming.

Abernathy said her move to State Court has been part of her career goals since she was in high school. As a student at the then Forsyth County High School, she visited with the late Stan Gault, a State Court judge at the time.

“That day changed my life,” Abernathy said, “and made me decide I wanted to follow in his footsteps and become a prosecutor in State Court and eventually solicitor and a judge.”

Abernathy has been elected solicitor general since 1996, when the local State Court split from Cherokee County.

Abernathy was the county’s first female prosecutor, and will hold the honor of also being Forsyth’s first female trial court judge.

“There are so many exciting opportunities that come along with being a judge, the ability to impact the court system,” she said.

Abernathy hopes to make improvements in the area of electronic filing.

Her successor for solicitor general has not yet been named, but she said the position is traditionally filled through an application and nomination process at the governor’s office.

If the appointment has not been made by the time she’s sworn in, Abernathy said her chief assistant will fill the role in the interim, according to state statute.

Abernathy holds a bachelor’s degree from North Georgia College & State University and a law degree from John Marshall Law School. She and her husband, Stephen Maddox, live in Cumming and have five children.
Last month, the Georgia Judicial Nominating Commission narrowed the field of candidates for the Superior Court opening to Smith and Abernathy.

Court officials have said the additional judge will help relieve the increasing backlog of cases caused in part by a growing population.

Courts Administrator Dawn Childress said it’s already known that Smith is “an amazing judge,” and Abernathy’s experience in State Court as prosecutor makes her a “great” fit.

Childress said sitting State Court Judge Russell McClelland will hear any criminal cases Abernathy handled in her previous capacity.

Childress was conducting interviews Tuesday for a criminal calendar clerk and additional bailiffs as part of the third judgeship, for which costs were included in the 2013 county budget.

Some moves will also be made in the courthouse to accommodate the fifth judge, she said.

Abernathy will operate from the court administration suite, and those employees will move to a trailer occupied previously by two clerk of court employees, Childress said.

Those two will move to a temporary location in Cumming City Hall.

The tight accommodations will eventually clear as the construction of a new county courthouse is expected to begin next year.

The new courthouse will be built across Veterans Memorial Boulevard from the current one, and is slated for completion in 2015.

The courthouse and a jail expansion were approved by voters as part of the recent 1-cent sales tax extension. They are estimated to cost about $100 million to build.