Governor Brian Kemp announced thirty-five appointments to the Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC), which makes recommendations to the Governor to fill vacancies in state, superior, and appellate courts in Georgia.
“It is my honor to appoint this remarkable coalition of legal professionals to the Judicial Nominating Commission,” said Governor Kemp. “I look forward to working with them to ensure that members of the state’s judicial branch honor the law, share our values, and serve with integrity and humility. I am thankful to each of these distinguished individuals for answering the call to public service on behalf of our state.”
Vincent Russo represents clients in a wide range of business litigation, including disputes involving breach of corporate fiduciary duties, contracts, non-compete agreements, securities, real estate, fraud, and tortious interference with contract and business relations at Robbins Firm. He has over a decade of regulatory and policy experience and expertise in election law and campaign finance. In addition to his business litigation practice, Russo has been appointed as a Special Assistant Attorney General for the State of Georgia and regularly represents Georgia officials in voting rights and election litigation. He has been tapped to represent the Governor and the Secretary of State of Georgia in matters before the Committee on Oversight and Reform in the U.S. House of Representatives. Prior to joining the Firm, Russo was the General Counsel for the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office, where he served as the chief legal counsel in the administrations of Brian Kemp and Karen Handel. He earned undergraduate degrees in Economics and Political Science from Louisiana State University and is a graduate of Emory University School of Law, where he was the recipient of the James C. Pratt Memorial Award, selected to the Order of the Barristers, and served as the Director of the Emory Moot Court Society (2005-2006). In 2019, Russo was appointed by Governor Kemp to serve as Co-Chair of the Judicial Nominating Commission.
Mark Middleton is the president of Middleton Public Affairs. Middleton, an “AV” rated attorney, is of counsel at Gilbert, Harrell, Sumerford, & Martin, PC, and focuses on governmental relations, legislative lobbying, administrative law, and regulatory representation. In the 2018 election cycle, Middleton served as Director of Policy for the Kemp for Governor campaign and as co-chair of Governor-elect Kemp’s transition team. He currently serves on the Executive Committee of the Georgia State Chamber of Commerce’s Government Affairs Education Committee. He has previously served as Chief of Staff at the Georgia Department of Education. For 20 years, Middleton has represented clients with diverse interests, including education, environmental, insurance, telecommunications, technology procurement, utility regulation, and general legislative matters. He is a “Double Dawg,” having received both his bachelor’s degree and J.D. from the University of Georgia. In 2019, he was appointed as a Co-Chair of the Judicial Nominating Commission for The State of Georgia.
Shannon G. Wallace is the District Attorney in Cherokee County. She was elected in November of 2012 as Cherokee County’s first female District Attorney. Prior to being elected, she was the Chief Assistant District Attorney for the former District Attorney, Garry Moss. Before coming to the Cherokee County District Attorney’s Office, Wallace was a prosecutor in the Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit in middle Georgia. She handled all kinds of major felony offenses but quickly developed a passion for handling crimes against women and children while prosecuting in middle Georgia. In 2013, Wallace was selected as a Rising Star by the Fulton Daily Report. She was also selected by Georgia Trend as one of the state’s Forty under Forty professionals and as a Legal Elite. Wallace graduated from the University of Georgia in 1999 with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Criminal Justice. She then received her Juris Doctor from the University of Georgia School of Law in 2002. In 2019, Governor Brian Kemp appointed Wallace to serve as Co-Chair on the Judicial Nominating Commission.
Michael P. Boggs is a Judge of the Georgia Supreme Court and has been since January 2017. Boggs graduated from Georgia Southern in 1985 with his bachelor’s degree and from Mercer University School of Law in 1990. Boggs’ career experience includes working in insurance defense litigation and running his own general trial practice. In 2000, Boggs was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives, a position he held until 2004 when he was elected to the Waycross Judicial Circuit. He was re-elected in 2008 and served as a Superior Court Judge. From 2012 to 2016, Boggs served on the Georgia Court of Appeals. In 2013, President Barack Obama nominated Boggs for the US District Court for the Northern District of Georgia. Boggs was initially appointed to serve as a member of the JNC in 2019.
Derek Bottoms is the Vice President of Employment Practices and Associate Relations for Home Depot. Prior to joining Home Depot over two decades ago, Bottoms worked as a law associate at Powell Goldstein. He attended the University of Georgia for his undergraduate education before earning his Juris Doctor at Georgia State University School of Law. He is married to Atlanta Mayor, Keisha Lance Bottoms, and together they have four adopted children. Bottoms was appointed by Governor Brian Kemp to serve on the Judicial Nominating Commission in 2019.
Kristi Connell is a life-long resident of Augusta, Georgia. She received her Juris Doctor from Mercer University School of Law in 2000 and has been practicing law in the Augusta area for 21 years. She was an Assistant District Attorney for the Augusta Judicial Circuit for 14 years, with 4 of those years spent as its Chief Assistant District Attorney. She currently practices law with the Connell Law Firm, where she has been for the last 7 years. Connell practices domestic, criminal defense, and civil law in Federal, Superior, State, and Magistrate Courts. Additionally, she is certified as a civil, domestic, and domestic violence mediator in Georgia. She is also a member of the Augusta Bar and the State Bar of Georgia.
Lance Cooper is the founding partner of the Cooper Firm where he specializes in product liability cases involving automobile design and manufacturing defects. Cooper received his law degree from Emory University in 1989 where he was a G. Joseph Tauro Scholar and Editor of the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy. He received his bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Economics from the University of California at Berkeley in 1985. Cooper served as the 2002-2003 President of the Georgia Trial Lawyers Association and is a past President of the Cobb County Trial Lawyers Association. He is also a member of the American Association of Justice and was honored to receive the Steven J. Sharpe Public Service Award in 2014. He was a 2014 nominee for the Public Justice Trial Lawyer of the Year award. Cooper has served as a member of the Judicial Nominating Commission since 2019.
Tye Darland is the Senior Vice President-General Counsel and Secretary of Georgia-Pacific LLC. Darland received his bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and Accounting from the University of Iowa. Darland continued his education at the University of Iowa, graduating in 1989 with his J.D. and is a licensed attorney in Missouri, Kansas, and Georgia. Prior to joining Georgia Pacific, he was at Koch Industries, Inc. for nearly 12 years. He is an active member of the community and the legal profession. He is a member of the Leadership Atlanta Class of 2019. Darland was previously a member of the Judicial Nominating Commission from 2008 to 2010.
Sheetal Desai is a managing partner at The Trusted Lawyers, a Desai Law Group, PC. Her areas of practice include commercial transactions, real estate, corporate law, and commercial litigation. She attended the University of Wisconsin Law School in Madison, Wisconsin and began her legal career in Chicago. She is the current President of the Southeast Chapter of the US Pan-Asian American Chamber of Commerce (USPAACC-SE). She is also the Chair of the Solo and Small Firm Committee for the Georgia Asian Pacific American Bar Association. Desai is involved at the local level and sits on the Community Outreach Board for Gwinnett County. In the past, she served as an advisory board member for United Way – Gwinnett. Desai has also volunteered her legal services for such causes as Asian Pacific American Council (APAC) and Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA). She and her husband have three daughters.
Charles Evans serves as the presiding Judge of the Juvenile Court of the Columbia Judicial Circuit. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Augusta College and a master’s in Public Administration from Georgia Southern University. Evans graduated from the Walter F. George School of Law at Mercer University in 2000. He has previously served the state as an adult probation officer, an assistant district attorney, and as the Solicitor General of Richmond County. Prior to taking the bench, Evans was a partner in the law firm of Christine & Evans. Over several years, he held positions on several civic and public boards in Columbia and Richmond Counties. Evans is an Eagle Scout and volunteers with local Scouting. He and his wife, Leann, along with their son Charlie, live in Martinez and attend St. Mary on the Hill Church.
T. Mills Fleming is a partner at the Savannah-based law firm Hunter, Maclean, Exley & Dunn, P.C. He chairs HunterMaclean’s Healthcare and Immigration practice groups and is a past chairman of the Georgia Academy of Healthcare Attorneys. Currently, Fleming’s practice focuses primarily on healthcare regulatory and fraud and abuse matters as well as general immigration for businesses seeking to employ foreign national professionals. He is a member of the State Bar of Georgia and chairs the State Bar’s Audit Committee. In 2016, Fleming was awarded the Justice Robert Benham Award for Community Service by the Chief Justice’s Commission on Professionalism. He also serves as a member of the Georgia Lottery’s COAM Advisory Board. Mills received his undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Florida.
Patrick S. Flynn is the founder of Flynn+Phillips Attorneys at Law. In his trial law practice, Flynn specializes in lawsuits for wrongful death and personal injury cases. After earning his undergraduate degree from the University of Georgia, he received his law degree from the Cumberland School of Law in Birmingham, Alabama. Upon graduation, Flynn worked at several Birmingham firms where he specialized in commercial litigation. In 2002, he moved home to practice law, serving clients in his hometown of Albany and surrounding southwest Georgia communities. In 2005, Flynn and Charlie Peeler formed Flynn & Peeler. In 2008, Paul Phillips joined the firm to create Flynn, Peeler & Phillips.
Meg Heap is the former District Attorney for Georgia’s Eastern Judicial Circuit. She began her career as a Volunteer Coordinator and Victim Advocate with the Victim-Witness Assistance Program in the Savannah District Attorney’s office. After graduating from law school at Mercer University, Heap went on to serve the Blue Ridge Judicial Circuit as an Assistant District Attorney, where she prosecuted felonies in the Superior and Juvenile Court and handled civil condemnation. From 1995 to 2010, Heap worked as an ADA in the Eastern Judicial Circuit, where she would later serve two terms as District Attorney herself. The District Attorney’s Association of Georgia named her the 2019 District Attorney of the Year. In January 2021, Governor Brian Kemp appointed Heap to serve on the State Boards of Pardons and Paroles. She has served as a member of the Judicial Nominating Commission since 2019.
Robert S. Highsmith Jr. is a partner at Holland & Knight where he practices regulatory and administrative law, public policy litigation, government contracting, and government relations. Highsmith previously served as an executive counsel to former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue. He was assistant general counsel to the Georgia Republican Party, chief of staff to the Republican Caucus of the Georgia House of Representatives, and policy director to the 1998 Republican nominee for governor of Georgia. In the fall of 2012, Highsmith was appointed Lecturer in Yale College, where he taught “Lobbying and the Law,” a for-credit undergraduate seminar that he designed. He is an alumnus of both Yale College and the University of Georgia School of Law. Highsmith has served on the JNC under Governor Sonny Perdue, Governor Nathan Deal, and Governor Brian Kemp.
Drew Hill is a shareholder at Blasingame, Burch, Garrard & Ashley, P.C. in Athens, Georgia. His practice focuses on many different types of personal injury cases including complex mass torts and truck accident cases. Hill is a “Double Dawg” having received both his bachelor’s degree and J.D. from the University of Georgia. He has been recognized annually by the Best Lawyers in America, as well as the Top Lawyers in Georgia. Hill is a member of the National Trial Lawyers Top 100 Trial Lawyers and has been selected for many years for inclusion in the Super Lawyers list. He has received the highest peer rating possible, an AV Rating by Martindale-Hubbell, based on his commitment to high legal and ethical standards. Additionally, he is a Fellow in the Lawyers Foundation of Georgia and is past president of the Western Circuit Bar Association. Governor Brian Kemp appointed Hill to the JNC in 2019.
Soo Hong was born in Seoul, South Korea, and immigrated to Georgia at 10 years old. Hong received her bachelor’s from Georgia Institute of Technology in 2003 and J.D. from Mercer University School of Law in 2008. Hong is the founding partner at Blevins & Hong, PC with offices in Marietta and Duluth, Georgia. Her main practice areas include Bankruptcy, Personal Injury, and Criminal Defense. She chaired committees with the Younger Lawyers Division of the State Bar and is currently serving the Cobb County Bar Association as the President-Elect, and previously served as the Secretary, Treasurer, and the President of the Younger Lawyer Committee. In 2015, Hong was the recipient of the prestigious Ross Adams Younger Lawyer Award. She serves as a member of the Gwinnett County Library Foundation Board, volunteers with the Cobb Justice Foundation, was a past instructor at Chattahoochee Technical College, and is a current member of Rotary Duluth.
Jamie Inagawa began his public service as an Assistant District Attorney for the Griffin Judicial Circuit. In 2004, Inagawa was elected to serve as the Fayette County Solicitor General. Currently serving his fifth term in office, he is committed to assisting victims of crimes in the pursuit of justice. Inagawa earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Mississippi State University before obtaining his J.D. from the University of Tulsa School of Law. He is a member of the Federalist Society, the Georgia Association of Solicitors General, the Fayette County Bar Association, the Georgia Asian Pacific American Bar Association, and the Georgia Hispanic Bar Association. He and his wife, Lisa, reside in Peachtree City with their three children.
Shawn Ellen LaGrua was appointed to the Georgia Supreme Court in December 2020. Prior to joining the Supreme Court, LaGrua was appointed to the Superior Court of the Atlanta Judicial Circuit by then-Governor Sonny Perdue. She served on the bench in the Superior Court of the Atlanta Judicial Circuit until January 2021, having been elected in 2012 and reelected in 2016 and 2020. Prior to her appointment to the bench, she served as Inspector General for the Georgia Secretary of State. From 2004 until 2007, she served as the Solicitor General for DeKalb County. LaGrua has over 20 years of trial experience, including her work as Chief Senior Assistant District Attorney in DeKalb and Fulton counties and as Chief Assistant District Attorney in the Tallapoosa Circuit. She graduated from the University of Georgia and received her Juris Doctor from the Georgia State University College of Law. LaGrua has previously served on the JNC.
Anne Kaufold-Wiggins is a partner at Balch & Bingham LLP. She specializes in energy litigation and product liability and casualty litigation. Kaufold-Wiggins attended the University of Georgia for her undergraduate education before attending Mercer University School of Law to earn her J.D. and Certificate in Advanced Legal Writing. She is the immediate past president of the board of directors for the Women’s Energy Network of Greater Atlanta, Inc. Kaufold-Wiggins was first appointed to the Judicial Nominating Commission in 2019.
Ben Land was appointed by Governor Nathan Deal to be a Superior Court Judge for the Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit in 2018. Prior to taking the bench, Land had a private law practice in Columbus for nearly 26 years, focusing on civil litigation and trial practice. Land is a “Double Dawg” and graduated second in his class at the University of Georgia School of Law. While in law school, he served on the Editorial Board of the Georgia Law Review, clerked for the Georgia Supreme Court, and was elected to the Order of the Coif. He was presented with the State Bar of Georgia’s William B. Spann, Jr. Award for Pro Bono Advocacy for his efforts on behalf of a pro bono client. Land is a graduate of Leadership Columbus and has served as the President of the Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit Bar Association, President of the Columbus Inn of Court, President of the Columbus Bar Association, District Representative for the State Bar of Georgia’s Younger Lawyers Division, and member of the Joseph Henry Lumpkin Inn of Court. He and his wife have three children.
Anh Le is General Counsel at Georgia Technology Authority. She previously served as Director of Operations/Business Development at King Commercial Properties. Le has worked for many local businesses as Outside Corporate Counsel and has extensive experience representing lenders, borrowers, purchasers, and sellers in both residential and commercial transactions. She was previously Deputy General Counsel at the Office of the Secretary of State and currently serves as a member of the Georgia State Elections Board and Judicial Nominating Commission. A native of Southern California, Le is a graduate of Leadership Georgia, class of 2008. She and her family live in Decatur, Georgia. Le has served on the Judicial Nominating Commission since February 2019.
Jim Manley is a Partner at Troutman Pepper Hamilton Sanders, LLC in Atlanta. Manley is a life-long resident of Georgia and graduate of both the University of Georgia and Mercer Law School. He has been recognized numerous times for his efforts on behalf of nonprofit organizations focused on the needs of children, women, and families. Manley serves on the Board of Wellroot Family Services (formerly the United Methodist Children’s Home), the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, and attends Northpoint Community Church. He and his wife have two children and reside in Johns Creek.
Quentin L. Marlin is a partner at Ellis Painter Attorneys at Law in Savannah. He represents clients in banking and finance, large corporations, and small businesses and municipalities. A native of Savannah, Georgia, he attended Armstrong Atlantic University for his undergraduate education and graduated from Mercer University School of Law in 2007. Marlin served in the Georgia Air National Guard throughout his years in college and law school, deploying overseas for Operation Enduring Freedom in 2002 and within the U.S. for Hurricane Katrina relief in 2005. He is an active member of his community and has several professional accolades. Marlin was previously appointed to the JNC by Governor Brian Kemp in 2019.
Shondeana Morris was appointed by Governor Brian Kemp to the Superior Court for the Stone Mountain Judicial Circuit in June of 2019. Prior to her appointment to the Superior Court, Morris served as a DeKalb County State Court Judge, and before that, she served as a Deputy District Attorney in the Fulton County Office of the District Attorney. As Deputy District Attorney, she provided leadership to the Public Integrity Unit, the Crimes Against Women and Children Unit, and Community Prosecution Unit. Morris serves on the Division of Family & Children Services State Advisory Board. A graduate of Lakeside High School in DeKalb County, she earned a bachelor’s degree in Journalism from The University of Georgia, a master’s degree in Criminal Justice from Albany State University, and a Juris Doctor from Mercer University School of Law. Morris and her husband have two children.
Brooke Newby serves as in-house counsel for the City of Perry. Newby received her Bachelor of Arts in Rhetoric from Georgia College and State University in 2007. She received her law degree from Mercer University and was admitted to the Georgia Bar in 2010. Newby is a 2014 graduate of Leadership Georgia. She and her husband, Dane, live in Perry with their two daughters. Newby was appointed to the Judicial Nominating Commission in 2019.
Natalie Paine is the former District Attorney for the Augusta Circuit. Born and raised in Augusta, Paine graduated from Lakeside High School and Georgia College and State University. After earning her Juris Doctor from Charleston School of Law, she returned home to work in the District Attorney’s office. Paine was appointed to the Judicial Nominating Commission by Governor Brian Kemp in February 2019.
Haynes Studstill received her law degree from Mercer University’s Walter F. George School of Law and her bachelor’s degree from Vanderbilt University. After graduation from law school, Studstill and her husband moved to Atlanta where she continued working at King & Spalding, LLP in commercial real estate and business litigation. In 2009, Studstill partnered with her father-in-law, Danny Studstill, to form the Studstill Firm, LLP. The firm has offices in Valdosta and Nashville, Georgia. Studstill and her husband, Justin, focus their practice on personal injury litigation. She is the Secretary of the Valdosta Bar Association, past President of the Alapaha Judicial Circuit Bar Association, past President of the Georgia Association of Women Lawyers Valdosta Chapter, a Barrister in the Bootle Inn of Court, and a former board member of Safe Kids Lowndes County. She has been honored as a Georgia “Super Lawyer” annually since 2014. She and Justin live in Lakeland, Georgia with their children.
Darrell Sutton is a partner at the Sutton Law Group. A career-long insurance defense litigator, Sutton and his firm defend individuals, businesses, insurers, self-insured companies, and third-party administrators in workers’ compensation and commercial general liability claims, as well as insurance coverage disputes. On July 1, 2019, Sutton became the 57th State Bar of Georgia President. Sutton attended Berry College in Rome, graduating in 2000 with a bachelor’s degree before graduating from Mercer University Walter F. George School of Law in 2003. Governor Brian Kemp appointed Sutton to the Judicial Nominating Commission in 2019.
Trey Taylor has been practicing law since 2010. As an attorney at Taylor Law, LLC, he provides legal representation for middle Georgia families. Before the founding of Taylor Law, LLC, he was a partner at Sumner & Taylor, LLC. Prior to his legal education at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, Taylor worked in the Office of Congressman Tom Price. Taylor was appointed by Governor Brian Kemp to serve on the Certificate of Need Appeals Panel. He and his family reside in Dublin. Taylor has served on the Judicial Nominating Commission since 2019.
Ryan Teague focuses on litigation and regulatory affairs at the Robbins Firm. Teague served as Executive Counsel to Governor Nathan Deal from 2011 until January 2017, and earlier as Deputy Executive Counsel for Governor Sonny Perdue. Prior to his service in state government, Teague lived and worked in Washington, D.C. from 2007 to 2009, serving as the general counsel to a 501(c)(4) issue advocacy organization of national scope. Since leaving state government in 2017, he has served on the Judicial Nominating Commission for Governor Deal and Governor Kemp and serves as the chairman of the State Commission on Compensation. Teague is a summa cum laude graduate of Clemson University and a magna cum laude graduate of the University of Georgia School of Law, where he served on the Law Review. Teague has served on the Judicial Nominating Commission since November 2017.
Frank Turner is a partner at Greer, Stansfield & Turner, LLP in Covington. A graduate of Washington & Lee University and the Walter F. George School of Law at Mercer University, Turner has served in numerous leadership and membership roles in community service to Covington and Newton County. He is currently a member of the Newton County Industrial Development Authority, chairperson of the Newton County Land Trust Alliance, Inc., and serves on the board of directors of United Bank. He is a graduate of Leadership Georgia. A lifelong resident of Newton County, Turner and his wife, Loy, have three children and reside in Covington. Tuener was appointed to the Department of Community Affairs Board in 2005, and was appointed to the Judicial Nominating Commission in February of 2019.
Richard J. Valladares is a Peruvian-American shareholder at Greenberg Traurig, LLP. Valladares has practiced complex litigation law for over 20 years and has been with Greenberg Traurig (GT) for 16 years. He serves as the Chair of the firm’s Atlanta Business Litigation Group. Valladares has extensive litigation and trial experience in state and federal courts representing a wide array of clients ranging from Fortune 500 companies to local businesses. He has been ranked by Super Lawyers magazine as a “Georgia Super Lawyer” for the last ten years, was listed in Georgia Trend magazine’s “Legal Elite” from 2011-2013, and was listed as a 2009 “Future Star” in Benchmark Litigation. He serves as a mentor to students participating in the Georgia Latino Law Foundation who have legal career aspirations, he has served as Vice-President of the Peruvian-American Chamber of Commerce of Georgia, and worked with the Atlanta Public School System to develop the “Lawyer for a Day” after school program for Atlanta Public Schools and B.E.S.T. Academy. In 2012, Valladares was awarded the Professional of the Year – XVII TUMI USA Award. He has also authored, co-authored, co-edited, and served as contributing editor for a vast array of legal books and articles including the Second Edition of Toxic Mold Litigation Guidebook and The Trial Handbook for New Jersey Lawyers. Valladares received his bachelor’s degree from Rutgers University and J.D. from Seton Hall University School of Law.
Holly Veal was appointed by former Governor Nathan Deal to the Flint Circuit Superior Court in 2018. Veal is the first African American and the first woman to serve on that court. She earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Georgia State University. She attended the University of Pittsburgh, School of Law. While at the University of Pittsburgh, she worked as a teachers’ assistant with CLEO, Inc. Veal also worked with the Pennsylvania Board of Education to provide academic assistance to at-risk children in the classroom setting. Over her 15 years of practice, she has worked as a Senior Assistant District Attorney, Assistant Public Defender, and operated a successful law firm. She has earned recognition for her work as a prosecutor and defense lawyer arguing before the Georgia Supreme Court. She served on the Formal Advisory Opinion Board through the State Bar of Georgia and on the Board of Directors for the Hands of Hope Clinic. She was recently awarded a plaque from the Georgia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers for her work as chair of the Debra Blum Mental Health Committee. She is married to Lindsey Veal, Jr. and they share two daughters.
Josh Waters is university counsel at Middle Georgia State University. Waters most recently was in private practice in Perry at the law firm of Walker, Hulbert, Gray and Moore. Waters is a graduate of Houston County High School. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Georgia and completed his legal education at The University of Mississippi. He previously held several positions with the Georgia Office of the Secretary of State. Waters was first named to the JNC in 2019.
Kathleen Wilkinson is an attorney with OakBridge Law Group. Prior to joining the firm in August 2021, Wilkinson served more than three years as a long-term care attorney with Hall Booth Smith. She graduated from Emory University School of Law in 2017. In 2019, Governor Brian Kemp named her the Judicial Nominating Commission.