Monday was one for the record books of Georgia judicial history.
With the backing of Gov. Brian Kemp Monday—subject to approval by the Georgia House of Representatives and Senate judiciary committees—Jones Day partner Walter Davis stepped in front of the cameras poised to become the first judge for the new statewide business court.
If confirmed, Davis will become the first judge of any trial or appellate court who doesn’t have to run for election. He also will become the first who didn’t go through the Judicial Nominating Committee application, interview and short list process.
The law that governs the new court—House Bill 239—provides for a five-year term starting in January 2020, subject to reappointment or new appointment by the governor in office at the expiration. It doesn’t say anything about the JNC, whose members were not involved in this selection.
Even some of the judges who walked across the street from the judicial building to the Capitol at the governor’s invitation Monday afternoon did not know who they were there to see.
A 3:30 p.m. news conference in the governor’s ceremonial office in the Capitol provided the dramatic reveal of Kemp’s choice to lead the business court. In the couple of hours prior, as the governor was upstairs in the House chambers swearing in two new superior court judges he selected—Tadia Whitner of the Gwinnett Circuit and Stacey Hydrick of Stone Mountain—some of Kemp’s staffers were in a conference room on the ground floor behind closed doors with Davis giving a flurry of interviews to reporters who didn’t know who they were there to meet until they walked in.
Much of the secrecy was for Davis. He has headed the hiring committee for six years at Jones Day in Atlanta, where he serves as administrative partner. He said he wanted to tell as many colleagues as he could himself in advance that, after 17 years as a business litigator there, he will be leaving in January—provided he is confirmed by the judiciary committees.
That confirmation soon appeared imminent. As the crowd left the governor’s office, Kemp’s office sent out a news release announcing the appointment and including statements of support from legislative leaders.
Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan said: “We realize that in order to stay the number one state for business, we have to continue to promote business-friendly practices like the state business court. However, we realize that the court’s effectiveness will depend on having high-quality judges that bring confidence to the institution. Walt Davis will bring that and more. I completely support the governor’s appointment.”
House Speaker David Ralston: “This court will help expedite complex business cases and keep litigation costs down for all involved. We, in the General Assembly, stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Governor Kemp in trying to ease burdens on Georgia businesses and ensure a fair marketplace. I want to thank all those who have worked to make this business court a reality over the last several years, including Chairman Chuck Efstration, Chairman Barry Fleming, Attorney General Chris Carr, and former Governor Nathan Deal. I congratulate Walt on his selection and know that the Judiciary committees will work expeditiously on his confirmation to this important position.”
Senate Judiciary Chairman Jesse Stone: “As a sponsor of the enabling legislation, I want to thank Governor Kemp for announcing his choice of Walt Davis for appointment to the newly created position of judge for the Georgia State-wide Business Court. I pledge to work closely with the Governor’s office and Chairman Fleming in carrying out the approval process through the House and Senate Judiciary Committees.”
House Judiciary Chairman Barry Fleming: “Over the past few years, I have had the privilege of getting to know Walt Davis personally and enjoyed working with him as the General Assembly developed its plan for a new, state-wide business court. Without question, he offers the right legal background and mindset to lead this effort. I applaud Governor Kemp’s appointment of Walt Davis for this important position, and I am confident that Walt will lead with integrity to ensure the court’s long-term success.”
The statement also included some of Kemp’s prepared remarks in front of the cameras.
“With over 17 years of private-sector experience, Walt Davis will bring invaluable business law expertise to this new statewide court,” Kemp said. “I am truly honored to nominate him to this position, and I have the utmost confidence that he will govern his courtroom with integrity and impartiality. By allowing companies to resolve their differences quickly and judiciously through the business court, businesses can get back to doing what they do best: creating jobs and opportunity for hardworking Georgians.”
Before the business day was over, the Georgia Chamber of Commerce sent out a separate statement applauding the news.
“We look forward to working with Governor Kemp and Mr. Davis as we continue to bolster our already flourishing pro-business environment throughout the state,” senior vice president of public affairs David Raynor said in the chamber’s statement. He also said establishing the statewide business court was “a top priority for the Georgia Chamber and the entire business community over the last two years as a way to expedite complex business litigation through the court system.”
Davis said in one of the pre-news conference interviews on the ground floor that he expects the court will grow and add more judges “if I do my job effectively.”
At the news conference, Davis said, “I have but one goal: to make the court respected in this state, trusted by all who do business here. … My pledge to you is simple. I will serve with integrity, fairness and impartiality in all that I do.”
After the governor said goodbye to most of his guests Monday afternoon, he told the Daily Report he was glad that Davis was willing to take the job.
“I know he feels strongly about public service. I think he sees this as his opportunity to give back,” Kemp said. “We’re going to put that to good use.”