McDONOUGH — Henry County’s newest State Court judge, Pandora E. Palmer, was sworn in earlier this month and hit the ground running.
“It was so busy when I started,” she said, “that I got sworn in on the 7th and I started court the next day. So I didn’t even have time to move in until that weekend!”
A native of Fayette County, Palmer now calls Henry County home. Palmer did her undergraduate studies at the University of Georgia, then finished her law degree part-time at night at Georgia State.
“Family law is something that I specialized in,” she said, “also criminal defense, personal injury, juvenile and probate.”
From 2004 to 2012, Palmer was at Smith Welch, where she was the first female partner. “I loved the firm, I loved everybody there, but I wanted to see if I could do my own practice.” For the next six years, she and now-Magistrate Judge Amanda Flora ran that practice. Flora was sworn in as a judge in December 2018, and Palmer was sworn in at State Court Feb. 21.
“It’s a lot of responsibility being a judge,” Palmer said. “It was a big change for me. I loved my practice and I loved my clients, but I definitely felt like I was ready for a change and I wanted something where I could give a little more back. I think in State Court, we out of all the judges have the most opportunity to maybe change someone’s life. We have the DUI Court. We have the mental health court (Mental Diversion Court) that Judge (James Troy) Chafin, whose place I took, that has been his passion. He has started that and has luckily agreed to run that court pro bono for the next six months.” She says she and Judge David Brown, also a State Court judge, are good friends.
“Judge (Ernest D.) Blount, he’s wonderful,” Palmer said. “He’s right next door, so I have him for a mentor, Judge (Ben W.) Studdard and Judge Chafin. He (Chafin) is an awesome man. I have some big shoes to fill. He was here 16 years. And then being the first female over here, that’s more pressure because you want to make sure you do a really good job, you know people are looking.”
Palmer credits Chafin’s staff, who now work for her, for smoothing the way.
“When I started, I literally felt like the first two weeks, I ran,” Palmer said. “It was hard and I was putting together my bench book, which is the different kinds of hearings that we have, my notes, so that I knew what to say and how to conduct those. It was so busy, but now it seems like it’s calming down some.”
The busiest day, she says, is probation revocations, “and we’ve added another calendar. So we’re having those three days a month now.” In the summer, Palmer said the court may add another non-serious calendar, “which is traffic cases. Those two are our busiest calendars.” Personal injury cases under $15,000, civil cases like landlord-tenant appeals from Magistrate Court and debtor-creditor cases, and criminal bench and jury cases round out the docket.
There’s plenty of somber work, like domestic violence cases. “I heard from a victim in a sentencing not too long ago, what she went through and everything, and I actually rejected the recommendation of the state because I didn’t think the punishment was appropriate, because it had not been recommended for the domestic violence classes. That one kind of stuck with me when she said what she and her children had gone through.”
But there are also lighter moments.
“The funniest thing I had happen was that I had a jury that took the court’s exhibit, and I didn’t think that I had to instruct on this, but it was a court’s exhibit that was labeled where a jury will ask a question and we’ll answer it, and they actually shredded it,” she laughed. “We were able to piece it back together like a puzzle, because it was an exhibit of the court. So I was surprised at that. You’re constantly looking at things you need to advise people, and, well, the court reporter said she’d never had that happen. So that jury was the most memorable.”