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Jul. 8—Cobb's freshest face on its judicial bench says the court system can't fix everything.
"Nor should that necessarily be our responsibility, but the things that we can ... it's a pivotal role we play," Cobb State Court Judge Ashley Palmer told the MDJ this week.
A Tennessee native and former public defender, Palmer was sworn into office last month, one of a slate of appointments made by Gov. Brian Kemp to the Cobb circuit.
Judge David Darden retired earlier this year, with Judge Eric Brewton, already a State Court judge, shifting over to fill his place. Palmer takes up Brewton's spot in the court's Division Two, which handles traffic violations.
She's already received a ringing endorsement from one of her colleagues, Chief Judge Carl Bowers, who called her an "outstanding addition" to the bench.
"She is hard-working, efficient, and fair to all litigants," Bowers told the MDJ. "Everyone in State Court is delighted by Judge Palmer joining us."
A graduate of Vanderbilt — undergraduate and law school—Palmer came to the Atlanta area in 2006 and found work at a corporate firm. Preferring to be in the courtroom, she didn't take to the desk work and soon found a job at the juvenile division of the Clayton County Public Defender's office.
"I had thought for a long time I wanted to do juvenile court work," Palmer recalled. "I was in felony court during the majority of that time, handling everything from murders down to very minor felony shoplifting."
Palmer would spend six years in Clayton County, and more than five with the Fulton County Attorney's office. She has the distinction of reaching the bench without ever serving as a prosecutor. Every judge approaches their work differently based on their path prior, she said, and her story is no different.
"It's kind of rare to have a judge who has such a balance of the civil and the criminal. There's different parts of your brain that you have to initiate to do that (and) I've loved both of those," Palmer said.
"I have intimately been involved with folks who have found themselves charged with very serious crimes," she added. "There's a backstory to many things that I think, a lot of times, folks don't think about ... the single mom may have done something she wouldn't ordinarily do, but she needed the diapers ... someone who found themselves in the wrong place, at the wrong time, with the wrong crowd."
It remains front-of-mind for her that the people who step into her courtroom have more, and sometimes bigger problems than their court date. So far, she's worked to be understanding of lawyers' requests to push back cases, or of defendants who might show up hours after their scheduled appearance.
"You want to be kind of the calming presence," she said. "You want to be the one that tells them it's going to be okay."
Like some of her colleagues, Palmer was, at least in part, motivated to try for a judgeship by watching the shortcomings of judges she practiced in front of, who failed to show that consideration. But she also saw the other side of that coin.
"Over the last 15 years, I've seen how those judges really can be helpers within our community," she said. "I remember Judge Stephen Teske in juvenile court ... every time (kids) came in front of him, they felt when they left, they were heard, they were respected, they were loved. And if there's anything he could do to divert them away from being locked up, he would do it."
Palmer was also glad to finally work in the county where she lives with her husband, two sons, and daughter. And now that she's a public office holder, she has another task—getting reelected. She'll be on the non-partisan ballot in the spring of 2022 and has already started the unenviable work of campaigning, putting in appearances at both the Cobb Democrats' and Republicans' July Fourth events.
On what's next for the fast-rising legal mind, Palmer gave a wide smile and said if "at some point" she feels ready for another, higher office, she'd consider it. But she has plenty on her plate for the foreseeable future.
"I'm just loving what I'm doing now on the bench, I have learned a lot," she said. "And I think that in every position that you hold, you need to prove yourself worthy to remain in that, which is what I'm hoping to do when the election comes back around ... for right now, this is a place I'm so happy to call my home."