Milledgeville judge named Ga. Supreme Court’s chief justice

adrury@macon.comMay 2, 2013 

Hugh Thompson

Hulane George has known Hugh Thompson for the better part of 40 years, but she saw his true character two years ago in the Cairo airport as they waited for a flight out of Egypt amid heavy political unrest.

George, a Baldwin County Superior Court judge, and Thompson, a Georgia Supreme Court justice, were among a group of nearly 50 travelers, mostly from Milledgeville, who visited the north African country about the same time as Egyptian uprisings during the Arab Spring. The airport had no food, water, ATMs or cellphone service, essentially trapping the Milledgeville tourists for more than a day.

“When you spend 27 hours in the Cairo airport together, you get to know a person,” George said. “There was pushing and shoving, and I’m surprised nobody got hurt.”

But Thompson “stayed calm,” she said. “He’s not one to panic.”

Those qualities are among the reasons George says Thompson will make a good chief justice of the state Supreme Court. The other justices elected Thompson unanimously to that position, according to a Thursday news release from the high court.

Thompson said Thursday he is “delighted” to become chief justice. His swearing-in ceremony is scheduled for Aug. 15. The chief justice serves one four-year term and also is chairman of the Georgia Judicial Council, which oversees all levels of the state’s courts.

“I’m really happy my colleagues have enough confidence and respect for me to elect me,” he told The Telegraph.

Born in Montezuma in the summer of 1943, Thompson began first grade in Covington, but his family moved to Milledgeville, where he started the second grade. Now 69, he still remembers his second-grade teacher’s name -- Lucy Robertson. Thompson said she was a great teacher, like so many of those who in later years molded him into the man he is today.

He graduated from Baldwin High School and received his undergraduate degree from Emory University. In 1969, he earned his law degree from Mercer University. A decade later, on June 6, 1979, Gov. George Busbee appointed him to a Superior Court post. Thompson stayed on the Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit bench for 25 years before Gov. Zell Miller tapped him for the Supreme Court.

The newly elected chief justice said he had no early dreams of ever reaching the pinnacle of the Georgia judiciary. “I was extremely fortunate to have good friends and mentors all the way through,” Thompson said. “They must have seen things in me I didn’t see in myself.”

George, who filled Thompson’s Superior Court judge post when he left for Atlanta, said having a chief justice from the Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit is “a great honor.”

“He’s a very wise and intelligent judge ... and a common-sense person,” she said.

G.B. Moore III, the public defender for the Ocmulgee circuit, said Thompson is “very qualified” for his new role. “He’s done an excellent job since he’s been on the bench, and I’m proud for him,” Moore said. “He’s slow to speak, but he’s worth the wait. He doesn’t make rash decisions, and he thinks through things.”

Thompson said he is grateful for his time on the bench in the midstate.

“I’ve always been proud of my heritage in the Middle Georgia area,” he said. “I’m very proud of Milledgeville, too, and proud of the Ocmulgee circuit.”

Among the honors Thompson has received are the Outstanding Alumnus Award from Mercer University Law School Alumni., the Distinguished Achievement Award from Georgia College & State University and the Distinguished Achievement Award from the Baldwin County Bar Association.

He and his wife, Jane, have two adult sons.

To contact writer Andy M. Drury, call 744-4477.

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