A deep bench

Their business background helps these Terry judges maintain order in the court
Georgia Supreme Court Justices
Georgia Supreme Court justices Andrew Pinson, John Ellington and Charlie Bethel say a Terry degree gave them firm footing as they navigated their legal careers.

The verdict is in: a Terry College education serves justice well in the state of Georgia. 

Several Terry alumni hold prominent judicial positions across the state. These interpreters of the law use similar words to describe how a business core has helped them in their legal duties: 

Logic. Discipline. Organization. Accountability. Planning. Prioritization. Financial acumen

One of these alumni is a state court judge. Another sits on the federal bench. Three serve on the Georgia Supreme Court. 

Wherever they make their rulings, these distinguished arbiters put on their robes every day and bring Terry DNA into the halls of justice. 

Judge Ana Maria Martinez

 Judge Ana Maria Martinez     

Ana Maria Martinez has a habit of breaking things. Like barriers.

She became the first Latina to serve as a trial judge in Georgia after accepting an appointment to the DeKalb County State Court in January 2022 from Gov. Brian Kemp.

Martinez (BBA ’04) also runs Georgia’s only Spanish-speaking DUI court, with a groundbreaking treatment and accountability program for repeat offenders that profoundly changes their lives. 

“It’s the work I’m proudest of,” Martinez says. “The idea is not just to send people with problems to jail, but to give repeat offenders a way out of their downward spirals with an opportunity to rehabilitate, become accountable and be more involved in their communities.” 

Martinez says the DeKalb DUI Court is really a team: a solicitor, public defenders, administrators and case managers, treatment coordinators, probation officials and judges. It’s a phased program, 15 months minimum, with milestones participants must achieve on a path back to positive community and family engagement.

“It’s so cool to hear people tell us how they’re getting better, participating in their families, how their kids want to be with them, how they’re finding new love because now they’re present people,” Martinez says.

Martinez has a unique perspective on acceptance. She came to Georgia at age 12 from Manizales, Colombia. Her beloved grandfather, a lawyer in Colombia’s coffee region, was a primary influence.

Martinez credits the Terry College for her bench skills.

“My marketing degree taught me to conduct myself in a professional manner and how to sell my brand and what I believe in,” Martinez says. “I see the benefits every day. 

“Every class I took at Terry felt relevant. I learned the building blocks to get me where I wanted to go.”

Martinez realizes she stands for something important in the Georgia judicial system. She and her predecessors and mentors in DeKalb, Judge J. Antonio DelCampo and Judge Dax López, have made DeKalb the only one of Georgia’s 159 counties with a continuous line of Latino judges for the past 21 years.

She lives in north DeKalb with her husband, two daughters and a dog, Lucy. “Lucy’s my third kid,” Martinez laughs. “The one that doesn’t talk back.”

Judge Steve Jones

Judge Steve Jones                    

Steve Jones grew up in the 1960s near Athens, smack in the middle of Clarke County. For a youngster, it was paradise.

“I set rabbit boxes, pulled muscadines, picked blackberries and played sports every day,” Jones recalls. “My uncle would pay me two dollars for mowing grass, and I thought I was rich.”

The first of his family to attend college, Jones entered UGA aiming at the corporate world.

At Terry, Jones (BBA ’78, JD ’87) mastered business concepts that would one day easily transfer to the legal world.

“About two-thirds of a judge’s time is spent organizing time, moving cases along,” he says. “Terry taught me to plan and prioritize. I know how to operate a judge’s office, what cases to move fast, what to do to let people prepare.”

After graduation, waiting for corporate job offers, Jones took work running the child support recovery office for the Clarke County district attorney. The duty proved compelling, and he stayed six years before entering the Georgia School of Law.

With his JD, Jones became an assistant district attorney, then a municipal court judge in Athens-Clarke County. In 1995, Gov. Zell Miller named him to the Georgia Superior Court for the Western Judicial Circuit.

Jones’ bench work stood out — so much so that in March 2011, President Barack Obama appointed him to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.

Jones works with a purity of purpose. 

“I make sure I conduct my court every day in a way that wins respect and the trust of people,” he says. “That means making sure people feel treated fairly.

“In court, somebody always wins, and somebody loses. One of the best compliments a judge can get is to conduct a trial, rule, and hear lawyers say, ‘We respect the ruling.’ That means the public feels it had its day in court.”

Away from the courthouse, Jones still does some mowing.

“I have a small farm,” he says. “I raise a few goats. And I like to get up on my tractor and bush hog the property.

“Nobody’s objecting. Nobody’s arguing. It just feels great up there.”

Justice Charlie Bethel

A long-ago Friday business class at the Terry College still stands out for Charles “Charlie” Bethel.

“The professor showed beautiful slides of the Appalachian Trail for the first 10 minutes,” recalls Bethel (BBA ’98, JD ’01). “It was a nice incentive to get students out of bed and to a Friday morning class.

Justice Charlie Bethel

“Even more, it was a good reminder that having a business education and engagement in the business world ought to be about more than just work. We can do serious work and still have a life beyond.”   

Bethel’s “life beyond” has been notable. He grew up in Dalton, where he still lives. He worked as a law clerk, assistant solicitor for Dalton and an executive at J&J Industries, once one of the flooring companies that bolstered the city’s economy.

Public service called. Bethel first served as an alderman in Dalton, then won four terms in the Georgia State Senate. Standout achievements of his legislative tenure include championing juvenile justice reform and “Ava’s Law,” legislation that reformed autism insurance availability.

In November 2016, Gov. Nathan Deal appointed Bethel to the Georgia Court of Appeals. Then, in September 2018, Gov. Deal appointed him to the Supreme Court of Georgia.

Bethel calls Terry his “foundation.”

“All the skills and experience I bring to my work sitting on the bench and my personal life have been influenced by my Terry education,” he says. “People think of judges as only hearing cases. But we do lots more. I’m chairing an ad hoc committee dealing with compensation and finances. My background at Terry certainly equipped me for service in that role.”

What’s the hardest part of being a justice?

“Like most people,” Bethel says, “I’m opinionated. But because of ethical considerations, judges and justices can’t talk about political issues or cases they may have to later hear.

“It doesn’t hurt me to keep my opinions to myself, but we live in such an accessible world … and sometimes people view a lack of access as an effort to conceal something.

“That’s the hardest part of what we’re called to do: to honor the system of constitutional government by staying neutral when people want you to take a partisan side. A judge’s duty is always to the law.”

Bethel and his wife, Lynsey, also a UGA alum, have three children.

Justice Andrew Pinson 

Andrew Pinson learned about pedigree growing up with veterinarian parents, first in Lithonia, then Lincolnton, a small town near Augusta. 

He built up quite a pedigree for himself along the way to the Supreme Court of Georgia.

Justice Andrew Pinson

Pinson (BBA ’08, JD ’11) graduated summa cum laude and first in his class from Georgia Law. Afterwards, he nabbed highly competitive law clerk positions with then-chief judge David Sentelle at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, then with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

Pinson next moved into a notable legal practice at Jones Day in Atlanta, then to posts as Georgia’s deputy solicitor general and solicitor general — the state’s chief appeals lawyer. In 2021 Gov. Brian Kemp swore Pinson in as a justice of the Supreme Court.

Oh — and he accomplished all this by age 35.

“I feel proud and grateful to be on the Georgia Supreme Court,” Pinson, now 37, says. “It’s an honor to serve my own home state and uphold the rule of law.”

Pinson says he serves in this role by treating “every case and every party equally to make sure justice is served.”

And on the bench, Pinson puts his Terry education to good use.

“My focus on the financial side comes into play in certain cases,” he explains. “I’m never starting from scratch with respect to certain legal questions. Also, the business discipline of economics, accounting and finance started me on the path to having a better analytical mind.

“When you walk into law school, the first thing you hear is, ‘Think like a lawyer.’ That means by analysis, deliberately, with structure and logic. I had already begun to develop that mindset at Terry.”

Pinson feels his most important duty as a justice is interpretation of the law.

“We don’t have the power to change the law,” he says. “That’s outside our lane. In legal opinions, we say all the time that our job is simply to tell you what the law is and what that means.

“That role is crucial, but it’s very limited. It’s up to legislators and the people who elect them to change laws.”

Pinson and his wife, Sara Beth, live near Tucker. They relax with their dogs, taking a furry trio in a camper van to various hiking spots and to “dog sports events” such as Frisbee competitions.

Justice John Ellington  

“I tell lawyers, ‘There’s life outside the courtroom — get one,’” says John Ellington. “It will make you a better judge or lawyer inside the courtroom.”

Life past the gavel for Ellington revolves around his Soperton family farm and nearby rural communities. When he’s not bringing in hay or plowing fire lanes through pine trees, he’s presiding over a Lions Club or Rotary Club meeting or Ducks Unlimited or Boy Scouts group.

Or a courtroom.

Ellington (BBA ’82, JD ’85) ruled from the bench for 29 counties comprising five judicial circuits in south Georgia before going to Georgia’s appellate courts. Terry, he says, helped him with all of it.

“Judges and lawyers are problem-solvers,” Ellington says. “The background I got in Terry was in accounting, and accounting requires great discipline. It has served me throughout my career. In law and in life, it’s the people you meet and the friends you make that make the difference. I made lifelong friends at UGA and at Terry.”

Justice John Ellington

A Vidalia native, Ellington was barely in his thirties when he was appointed in 1991 as a state court judge for Treutlen County after practicing general trial law with a local firm. He would go on to serve as a municipal court judge, then as a judge in state and superior courts before being sworn in as judge of the Georgia Court of Appeals in 1999.

He served there for more than 18 years. In 2018, Ellington ran unopposed for a state Supreme Court seat vacated by retiring justice Carol Hunstein. Gov. Deal swore him in on Dec. 19, 2018.

Ellington reveres the rule of law.

“It’s one thing for somebody to lose a case, but it is much worse for them to lose confidence in the legal system. Everyone should have the opportunity to be heard and treated fairly under the rule of law,” he says.

Ellington is one judge who sometimes gets judged.

He cultivates trophy roses on his farm, showing them off in competitions in Thomasville, Georgia’s “City of Roses,” and other places.

Another passion is farming — “The only cure for farming is embalming fluid,” Ellington puts it — an occupation that supports an even more fervent one.

“Turkey hunting is a disease,” he jokes. “A lot of people don’t know why they’re here on this planet. But I do. I’m here to follow the Georgia Bulldogs and kill turkeys.”

He and his wife, Sandra Kate, truly enjoy their Thanksgivings.