MARIETTA — Cobb’s newest Superior Court judge makes no secret of the fact that after 27 years in the legal profession, he’s finally got his dream job.
“It’s kind of like ascending into heaven,” joked State Court Judge Henry Thompson, recently appointed by Gov. Brian Kemp to join the Cobb Superior Court bench.
The Carroll County native and former attorney in the Cobb District Attorney’s office has been ready for this moment for a long time. An eight-year veteran of the State Court, Thompson began his work in Cobb over 20 years ago, after the political winds blew him out of the Athens District Attorney’s office.
“We lost the election in July of 2000. I went home, and my wife informed me she was pregnant with child number three … and I’m like, I’m getting out my resume,” Thompson recalled. He walked out of the Athens office on a Friday afternoon, and by Monday morning was walking into that of Cobb’s DA.
After three years, Thompson decided to dip his toes into a more profitable line of work. He dabbled in private practice as a criminal defense lawyer, an experience he said he “wouldn’t trade … for anything.”
“You see the other side of the coin. You realize these are real human beings, with real life stories, and they’ve got their side of the story too. And a lot of times, they’re not charged appropriately,” he said.
In late 2012, a vacancy came up on the State Court bench in Cobb. While Thompson had his sights set higher, he figured starting on the State Court bench would let him hone his skills before taking on the Superior Court.
“I started thinking, I like public service. I think I could be a more effective public servant if I were a judge, running a courtroom,” Thompson said.
After a rigorous application process with the Judicial Nominating Commission, a panel of attorneys which selects finalists for judicial vacancies, he was selected for the spot by Gov. Nathan Deal.
Thompson’s work on the State Court bench has been solely in its traffic division. But keeping his eyes to the future, he would moonlight at the neighboring Superior Courthouse, filling in when needed for the regular judges. The idea, as he put it, was “if I found myself in the governor’s office interviewing again, I could say I’m the most qualified person.”
Sure enough, that was the pitch he gave this year when interviewing with Kemp.
“It’s the most important interview of your life,” he said, and the judge left nothing to chance.
Thompson reached out to colleagues who’d been through the interview process to learn what questions to expect. He drilled his answers driving to and from work for weeks on end. He reviewed a meticulously kept leather-bound notebook, which holds his notes from every case he’s ever worked. And when he walked into the state Capitol, he made sure to wear his UGA face mask—for the governor’s benefit.
Thompson knew there was one question that every governor asks every candidate: How do you plan on getting reelected?
“Ideally, you want to get reelected the way I’ve been reelected twice, and that’s unopposed,” he joked. But Thompson came ready, brandishing before Kemp a list of his supporters—“98 of my closest friends”—from 2013. If picked for the Superior Court, he told the governor, he could count on three times that number.
“And the governor actually said, ‘Well, you win the award for best prop of the day. Nobody else has pulled anything like that out of their pocket,’” Thompson said.
Thompson’s term won’t start until January 1, as his new role was created by the Georgia Legislature, which expanded the number of Cobb Superior Court judges from 10 to 11. He’ll have his work cut out for him from day one.
“You’ve got this backlog, and it’s the heaviest hitters of them all,” Thompson said of the heaps of cases which have gone untried since the pandemic began. “Murderers and rapists … armed robbers and child molesters.”
But his new colleague, Superior Court Chief Judge Robert Leonard, said he’s got plenty of confidence in Thompson’s ability to jump into the role.
“When we welcome Judge Thompson to the bench in January, he will bring a wealth of courtroom experience with him and will have the added benefit of previously presiding over a number of felony jury trials already as an assisting Superior Court judge,” Leonard told the MDJ. “Judge Thompson will be ready to try cases on day one … I am not anticipating much of a learning curve at all.”