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Hall native to retire from Court of Appeals
Smith began his career in Gainesville
Judge J.D. Smith, presiding judge to the Court of Appeals of the state of Georgia, makes remarks Thursday during a special session honoring him inside the State Judicial Building in Atlanta. Smith is retiring after being on the Court of Appeals since 1993. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

J.D. Smith's career

1971: Obtained Juris Doctor from the University of Georgia Law School and served as a law assistant to Justice William B. Gunter of the Supreme Court of Georgia
1972: Began practicing law at Hulsey, Oliver and Mahar in Gainesville
1984: Elected to serve on the superior court bench for the Northeastern Judicial Circuit
1993: Appointed by Gov. Zell Miller to serve on the Georgia Court of Appeals
2003-2004: Served as chief judge of the Georgia Court of Appeals
2011: Will retire from Georgia Court of Appeals on Dec. 31

For decades, Hall County native J.D. Smith has been a notable figure in the court system, not only in Gainesville but in the entire state.

Come Dec. 31, though, Smith will officially retire from his job as presiding judge in the Georgia Court of Appeals.

"I'm going to very much miss the people I've worked with here," he said Thursday during a special session that was held in his honor at the State Judicial Building in Atlanta. "I have so many close friends and so many wonderful memories of working here and on trial court based in Gainesville for the Northeastern (Judicial) Circuit."

Smith spent much of his early law career in Gainesville. After obtaining a Juris Doctor degree from the University of Georgia's School of Law in 1971, he practiced law at Hulsey, Oliver and Mahar in Gainesville.

He was elected in 1984 to the superior court bench for the Northeastern Judicial Circuit, where he served eight years. He moved further up the ranks in 1993 as he was appointed to the Georgia Court of Appeals.

Although Smith will be retiring, he won't entirely be out of work.

"I'm going to be working in mediation and arbitration with a service that does that kind of work," he said.

Many lawyers and officials were on hand Thursday afternoon to honor Smith and witness the unveiling of a portrait that will be displayed in the Georgia Court of Appeals courtroom.

Among those in attendance was Gov. Nathan Deal, who also began practicing law in Gainesville.

"J.D. Smith is one of those rare individuals," Deal said. "He has given a lifetime to public service, and he and I go back to days when we were both young attorneys in Gainesville, Georgia."

Deal described Smith as being "diligent, tenacious ... and always prepared."

Many from Hall County attended the event.

"J.D. Smith is one of the finest superior court judges and Court of Appeals judges that I've ever had the privilege to practice before," Hall County District Attorney Lee Darragh said. "He's a very smart lawyer and excellent judge all the way around, in addition to being a very fine person."

Gainesville-based attorney Dan Summer recalled his very first trial as an assistant district attorney, at which Smith presided.

"I got a fair trial, and I've never had anything but all these years," Summer said.

U.S. District Judge Richard Story of the Northern District of Georgia served with Smith while each was a superior court judge for the Northeastern Judicial Circuit.

"I had a wonderful experience serving with Judge Smith on the superior court," Story said. "He was everything you heard described today in terms of integrity, example and friend."

With a large caseload and limited time, Smith commended the ability of the Court of Appeals to effectively rule on cases.

"I'm so proud that in spite of what's really an impossible mission, this court gets it right an overwhelming number of the time," Smith said.

Some of the people Smith said were most influential to him throughout his career were those not associated with court.

"This job, especially superior court, is such an intensely people job," he said. "You see people sometimes at their very best and sometimes at their very worst."

As a judge, Smith said it's important to remember nobody can be perfect.

"We live in a world of fallible, imperfect human beings, and no one is really good enough to judge fallible, imperfect human beings," he said. "Not one of us is truly up to the job, but we have the responsibility to do the best we can."

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