Newest state Supreme Court justice has storied career

Photo by Avan Clark

Photo by Avan Clark

vernment -- up to and including the Georgia Supreme Court -- has been immune to the budget cuts that have made the "do more with less" mantra a new way of life.

The seven-justice court's newest member, David E. Nahmias, who was appointed by Gov. Sonny Perdue on Aug. 13, 2009, told The Albany Herald Editorial Board Tuesday that the state's highest court is currently operating on a bare-bones budget.

"If we have to make more cuts, quite frankly, I don't know where they'd come from," Nahmias said. "I've had to grab furniture from empty offices; we no longer have a law library; and we've cut our staff of everything but lawyers.

"I understand that everyone's going through the same thing, but the Supreme Court is Constitutionally bound to hear some cases within a specific time frame. There are things we can't put on hold."

Nahmias, who grew up in Atlanta and later excelled at Duke University and at Harvard Law School (where he served as editor of the Harvard Law Review along with President Obama), was in Southwest Georgia to meet and talk with judges and law enforcement officials in the region in advance of his first statewide election campaign.

The justice spoke Tuesday at a lunch meeting of the Dougherty County Rotary Club. He was introduced by former Dougherty County District Attorney and current state attorney general candidate Ken Hodges.

The budget cuts Nahmias spoke of have been partially responsible for a growing backlog of cases throughout the state judicial system that threatens to overwhelm the system.

"We've reached a point where courts have developed an order for their cases: capital, criminal, family law ... and everything else at the end of the line," he said. "I've heard of courts that have had to put child custody cases on hold for 60 days. And business disputes, which might need immediate attention, are being pushed down to the end of the line.

"The economy is going to bounce back at some point, but even well-run counties are in danger of building backlogs that will screw up their court system for generations to come."

After graduating magna cum laude from Harvard Law in 1991, Nahmias clerked for Judge Laurence Silberman of the U.S. Circuit Court for the District of Columbia and for Justice Antonin Scalia on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Nahmias practiced private law with the Washington-based Hogan & Hartson firm until joining the U.S. Attorney's Office in Atlanta as a federal prosecutor in 1995. There, he prosecuted a number of high-profile cases, including securing a guilty plea from Centennial Olympic Park bomber Eric Rudolph that resulted in a life-without-the-possibility-of-parole sentence, and the tax evasion case of former Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell.

"A lot of people asked why we didn't push for the death penalty against Rudolph," Nahmias said. "But even with an extensive FBI investigation, there were about 250 pounds of stolen dynamite linked to him that hadn't been accounted for. We were able, as part of his plea, to get the location of that dynamite.

"A large part of it was buried in front of an FBI building that I went to on a number of occasions."

On Dec. 1, 2004, Nahmias was nominated by President George W. Bush and was unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate as United States Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia. He held that position until being appointed to the Georgia Supreme Court last year.

"One of the most pleasant surprises I've witnessed on the Supreme Court is the number of high-quality lawyers and judges in Georgia," Nahmias said. "A lot of people told me that since I'd spent most of my career in the federal court system that I'd find the lawyers here not as good as what I was accustomed to. That hasn't been the case, though.

"There are the same superstars and others who you wonder why they haven't been brought before a discipline board, but there are excellent attorneys in the state system."

Nahmias said he's "still feeling his way through the election process" as he prepares to run for a full term on the bench.

"What I've seen in Georgia is that unless a judge is way out of touch, serious challenges don't usually happen," he said. "Frankly, I'm hoping to run unopposed in November, but I still find it useful to get around to other parts of the state to meet the judges and court officials.

"I think my place on the (Supreme Court) is a great fit. It's interesting and challenging, and it's important because our ruling is pretty much the last word on state issues."