Attorney Jane Morrison hopes to become one of the first openly gay judges in Georgia and the Southeast with her bid for the Fulton County State Court judge seat left open when Judge Brenda Cole retired after serving 14 years on the bench.
Morrison, 48, faces Fulton Magistrate Judge Melynee Leftridge for the non-partisan post, which will be decided in the July 31 election. State court handles misdemeanor criminal cases such as DUI and civil cases including contract cases and personal injury cases.
Morrison, whose partner is Fulton County Commissioner Joan Garner, graduated from Northeastern University School of Law in 1994 and said she was immediately drawn to civil rights work.
“I’ve had an interest in law since I was an undergraduate [at Boston University] and where I interned at GLAD (Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders) and saw firsthand the power the law has to change lives,” Morrison said.
Morrison moved to Atlanta nearly two decades ago and has practiced in Georgia for 18 years. She was one of the founders of the Stonewall Bar Association. In 1996, she helped organize the organization’s first annual dinner, an event that continues to attract high-profile attorneys and judges from across the state.
In 1997, Lambda Legal, an LGBT non-profit legal organization, opened a Southern Regional Office with Morrison as its first regional director.
Morrison has her own civil practice where she works full-time, but she is also a part-time solicitor for the cities of Sandy Springs and Johns Creek. She’s also served as a judge on a part time basis for Atlanta Municipal Court as well as a part-time Fulton Magistrate judge.
Morrison said she also has experience with criminal defense when early in her career she represented defendants in Atlanta Traffic Court.
“What I bring is a broad base of experience,” said Morrison, who is endorsed by Georgia Equality and the Atlanta Stonewall Democrats.
“I really went into law because I wanted to see equality for all people. I’ve seen that promise come to a reality in so many ways. There is still a long way to go, but I believe we have the best justice system that’s ever existed,” Morrison added.
Morrison said she and her opponent, Leftridge, have many differences as well.
“The biggest difference between me and my opponent is I do have that broad base of experience. My ability to work with people from all walks of life — I have a more broad base dealing with that diversity,” Morrison said.
Leftridge, 45, attended Spelman College and then Georgetown University Law Center. She said she wants to move to state court because as a magistrate judge she only gets to see pieces of a case.
Leftridge has been practicing law for more than 20 years and has civil and criminal experience. She became a part-time magistrate judge in 2007 and full-time in 2010.
Leftridge said she has attended several Stonewall Bar events and promises to be fair and impartial on the bench.
“As a jurist I treat everyone who comes before me fairly. Straight and gay people are members of our society. I did not grow up in a home where discrimination was practiced,” she said.
Leftridge pointed out she believes her experience on the bench makes her qualified to serve as a state court judge.
“I have extensive trial experience; it is my understanding she does not. I have sat for state court judges before. My experience is far more varied and extensive than what I understand hers to be,” she said.