After nearly three decades on the bench, Cobb Superior Court Judge Lark Ingram will retire when her term ends on Dec. 31.
Ingram 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.
Lark Ingram lives in south Cobb with her husband, Dan Pompilio, a software developer and entrepreneur.
“I just have different family responsibilities now,” she said, adding that she has a large family, including four grandchildren, in and around Atlanta. “I’ve been trying to do all the family stuff and work a full-time job as a judge, and I’m really hustling to do it all — do it the right way. ... That was the main driver.”
In addition to spending more time with family and traveling, Lark Ingram — a self-described lifelong learner — said she looks forward to picking up and sharpening new skills, though she doesn’t yet know what they’ll be.
“I’ve just been so busy doing this job ... that I just haven’t had a chance to lift my head up and look around,” she said.
The judge also said she chose to announce her retirement months ahead of the date to give anyone who may be interested in qualifying to run for her seat a chance to do so.
“I’m going to be 67 this summer, so I thought I need to just get myself organized and go ahead and give someone an opportunity to take the next four years,” she said. “I wanted to give everybody an opportunity to think about it a month before we have to qualify, because it’s a big decision to run a campaign.”
Qualifying for the nonpartisan race will take place in the first week of March, and the Superior Court judge seat — one of 10 on the court — will appear on Cobb voters’ ballots in the May primary elections, according to Walter Jones, a spokesman for the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office. If a runoff is necessary, it will be held in July, he said.
‘The patience of Job’
Those familiar with the judge’s career say she has always taken an empathetic, yet measured approach in her decisions.
Cobb Superior Court Chief Judge Reuben Green called her a “friend and a role model” who will be missed on the bench.
“She’s always one of those jurists who is patient, kind and considerate to all the people that appear before and, I think, to all of us who have had the privilege of working with her over the years, so I think it’s a huge loss for our community, and we’ve benefited greatly to her dedicated service over all these years,” Green said.
Former Marietta Congressman Buddy Darden said he’s known the judge since she was in grade school and wasn’t surprised to see her follow her father’s path.
Darden said the case Lark Ingram is probably best known for is one where she ruled the Cobb school board could not use $100 million from a special 1% sales tax for education to purchase take-home laptops for students.
The MDJ reported at the time that Lark Ingram’s ruling stated voters never approved then-Superintendent Joe Redden’s laptop initiative, which she said amounted to a “bait-and-switch.”
That ruling, and so many others, displayed her commitment to the letter of law, Darden said.
“She’s just a very studious, low-key courteous judge who tended to her business and got the job done — no nonsense, just very task-oriented and well-respected in the bar,” he said.
Former Gov. Roy Barnes called Conley Ingram “one of the top five judges I’ve ever seen,” and concluded that Lark Ingram “got good genes.”
“What makes her a great judge is patience and professionalism,” Barnes said. “She has the patience of Job, much longer than I have. I’ve really never seen her upset. A lot of judges wear their emotions on their sleeve when they come in, but she has the patience, she treats everybody with professionalism and she knows the law.”
Barnes said while he hates to see her leave, he understands that there “comes a time for a little rest.”
Marietta attorney Tom Cauthorn, a former Superior and State Court judge, echoed both Darden and Barnes, saying Lark Ingram has maintained a reputation for her precision.
“She is very exacting, and she expects the same thing from those who appear in cases in front of her. But she is always very polite — sometimes to the point that the attorney apologizes to her for being too aggressive,” Cauthorn said, adding that her leadership on the Council of Superior Court Judges of Georgia reflects her colleagues’ regard for her.
Cauthorn said Lark Ingram’s meticulous note-taking and processing of all evidence before any expression of what her ruling might be should serve as a model for judges everywhere.
“I think that’s been the hallmark of her judicial service,” he said. Giving a nod also to her father’s career, Cauthorn called it “very rare” to have two generations from the same family serve the county to such acclaim. “Lark Ingram and Conley have been enormously generous with themselves in terms of their public service, and I applaud them. I think she’s had a wonderful career, and I think we should all be proud that we had an opportunity to watch her serve in the way and manner that she did.”
The Ingram career and legacy
Lark Ingram was appointed to the Superior Court by former Gov. Zell Miller in 1995 and has qualified for re-election without opposition ever since. As to whether or not that shows how well-liked she is locally, the judge was much more reserved than her colleagues.
“I got lucky on that,” she said.
Prior to her service on the Superior Court, the Marietta High School graduate earned degrees from Emory University and University of Georgia School of Law before taking a job as an assistant United States attorney in the Criminal and Civil Divisions of the Department of Justice in the Northern District of Georgia. She served in the role from 1980 to 1991, when Miller appointed her a State Court judge in Cobb County.
Lark Ingram said her choice to enter public service was virtually laid out for her from the beginning. She said she remembered frequenting the courthouse and her father’s office, learning as she matured.
“That’s what I grew up knowing about, so that’s what I did,” she said.
Ingram added that she will further follow in her father’s footsteps as a Cobb Superior Court senior judge after her retirement, presiding over fewer cases and providing assistance to Superior Court judges.
Over the course of her career, Lark Ingram said she’s tried too many cases to count, both criminal and civil. She said it’s hard to choose one that had the biggest impact or drew the most attention, but a few stand out.
The most recent case that she said drew lots of media attention involved alleged abuse of an elderly man living in an upscale assisted living facility in east Cobb.
Adam Bennett, 91, died on Aug. 18, 2017, after telling a caretaker at Sunrise at East Cobb that another employee had punched him.
Landon Jean Pierre Terrel, 35, a caretaker at the assisted living facility was accused of beating the elderly man, leaving him with facial bruising, multiple rib fractures and a collapsed lung. Terrel was convicted in July on one felony charge of elder neglect but found not guilty on other charges: two counts of elder abuse and one of felony murder based on abuse. He was sentenced to five years in prison the following month.
Another case from 2012, in which the biological father of a 4-year-old girl shot and killed her mother and then himself, sparked an emotional custody battle among relatives. In that case, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled that juvenile courts do not have authority to award permanent custody without a transfer order from a Superior Court.
Unearthing those kinds of issues and trying to make a difference is exactly why Lark Ingram said she became a public servant.
“Frankly, we grew up like that, being around that all the time. That became my passion (to serve), and that continues to be my passion, because I’ll continue with that work as a Superior Court judge, but as a senior Superior Court judge,” she said. She said she looks forward to being able to balance serving her family and the residents of Cobb County in her retirement.