Cobb County Superior Court Judge Stephen Schuster is not seeking reelection and will step off the bench at the end of this year when his current four-year term ends.
Schuster, a former prosecutor, Juvenile Court judge and president of the Cobb Bar, emailed friends and colleagues Monday announcing he will not qualify in March to run for another term.
Schuster, 68, has been a Cobb Superior Court judge since Jan. 1, 2005, after running for an open seat and winning in 2004. This year is his 16th in the job — the last year of four elected terms.
“It has been an incredible experience to serve on the bench in Cobb County,” Schuster told the MDJ Monday.
He hopes to be appointed by Gov. Brian Kemp as a senior judge in the Cobb Superior Court when his current term ends, which essentially is an appointment given to retired judges who can be called back as needed due to conflicts and case loads.
“A senior Superior Court judge can only practice in the areas of mediation, arbitration and other forms of dispute resolution,” Schuster said. “This is basically when you meet with the parties outside of a courtroom and assist them in resolving their issues. This is something I have been doing in my current role for years. I also have served in a few leadership positions in the American Bar Association addressing this as a way to relieve the courts of high case counts.”
Schuster is the second Cobb Superior Court judge to announce in the last week they won’t be seeking reelection this year.
Judge Lark Ingram told the MDJ on Feb. 6 that she will retire Dec. 31 when her term ends, after nearly three decades on the bench. Ingram, 66, said she chose to step down to spend more time with her family, following the death of her father, retired Cobb Superior Court Senior Judge Conley Ingram, in November 2019.
There are seven Cobb Superior Court judge seats up for election this year, including those held by Schuster and Ingram. The court has 10 judges and five senior judges in total.
The other Cobb Superior Court judges whose terms are also ending this year are Kimberly Childs, Tain Kell, Reuben Green, Gregory Poole and Mary Staley. Qualifying for elections ends in March.
Cobb Superior Court Senior Judge Adele Grubbs, who has known Schuster for years, said he is an excellent judge with a high intellect, a sense of humor and a high sense of justice, and that he was a “tremendous” litigator for over two decades.
“He’s very devoted to what he does, he’s been remarkable,” Grubbs told the MDJ Monday. “He gets involved, gets into the middle of everything and is intense about finding out the applicable law and how to follow the law.”
Grubbs said Schuster’s 22 years as a litigator made him special as a judge.
“He’s very aware of equal justice for everybody, no matter who you are,” she said. “It’s not just an automatic thing, it’s something that’s consciously done. He’s looking at each individual person and what needs to be done in that particular case.”
Schuster said it had been an honor and a privilege to serve the people of Cobb County, both as a Juvenile and Superior Court judge.
“I was the first Jewish judge to be elected to the bench in Cobb County,” he said. “Today I am one of less than a handful of Jewish Superior Court judges in the state. During my tenure on the bench, I have had the opportunity to preside over serious and complex civil and criminal cases. One example, the Cobb EMC class action, returned tens of millions of dollars to its members and restored Cobb EMC to the control of its customers.”
Schuster said he started his legal career as a prosecutor in the Cobb Solicitor General’s office and after two years was hired by (former Cobb District Attorney) Tom Charron to be a trial DA and trial team leader.
“It is hard to believe that there were only six assistant DAs at the time,” he said. “I left and went into private practice for 22 years. My practice was litigation based. Almost all the time I was with one of my mentors, Jimmy Berry. He truly taught me about human nature and how to appeal to jurors.”
Schuster served in a number of positions with the Cobb County Bar Association, including as president for a term, and later spent 14 years on the Board of Governors for the State Bar of Georgia.
“I was honored to be selected as a Juvenile Court judge in 2002,” he said, adding that “as a judge, I have always respected and appreciated the hard work of attorneys.”
Setting the bar
Former Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens said he remembers when Schuster left private practice to become a Juvenile Court judge, and proved to be a pioneer in resolution techniques that united all parties rather than just punishing the perpetrator.
“Working with families, working with children, similar to where we are now with criminal justice reform, he took the time to bring all the parties together to solve problems and help (juveniles) be the best they could be,” Olens told the MDJ Monday. “At that time that was a revolutionary concept. He was the first Juvenile Court judge I know that literally put the energy and the time into providing all the different resources to steer a child’s career path in a positive direction. He spent an inordinate amount of time getting everyone together at the table and turning it into a positive process for the families.”
Olens also praised Schuster’s work in civil cases, saying he was essentially doing the work of a business court before the state started one.
“He relished complicated civil cases, delved into the micro detail level to solve problems,” Olens said. “I think the big issue was simply the degree to which he cared about the litigants, the parties, in front of him, and the ability to form remedies that worked for everyone and that brought justice and really helped the community.”
A University of Georgia School of Law graduate, Schuster is a founding member and former president of the American College of Business Court Judges.
He said he is proud of the work the Cobb Superior Court has done in the last 16 years and how its judges have tackled the issues of criminal justice reform, accountability courts and civil and family law reform.
“Our bench has promoted the careers of a number of exceptional attorneys who in the past would have been left behind,” Schuster said. “When the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same sex marriage we immediately implemented the ruling. That day I performed Cobb’s first marriage in the court’s atrium.”
Schuster thanked the Cobb Bar, his fellow Superior Court judges and staff, and his family on Monday. He and his wife Reva, married since 1979, have two adult daughters — a pediatrician and an attorney — and one grandchild.
“Thank you to all who have supported and touched my career,” Schuster said.