The Georgia Court of Appeals is located in the State Judicial Building in downtown Atlanta. (Supreme Court of Georgia)
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Hodges, Shigley trade barbs in campaign to fill Court of Appeals seat

An Atlanta plaintiff’s lawyer who once served as president of the State Bar of Georgia and a former district attorney from Albany who’s about to become State Bar president are competing for an open seat on the state’s second-highest court.

The non-partisan election on May 22 will fill an upcoming vacancy on the Court of Appeals. The winner will succeed Judge John Ellington, who is running unopposed to fill a seat on the state Supreme Court.

Atlanta lawyer Ken Shigley, one of two candidates competing to fill a vacancy on the Georgia Court of Appeals. (Handout)
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Last year, the busy Court of Appeals, which is allotted 15 judges, took in almost 2,200 direct appeals. It resolves most of the appeals stemming from lawsuits filed in Georgia’s state court system. It also decides hundreds of criminal appeals, except for those involving murder, which are handled by the state Supreme Court.

Ken Shigley, 66, is staking a lot on the race. In January, he made a personal loan of $250,000 to his campaign.

“I’d rather take a whipping from my daddy’s belt and get the lecture that went with it than hit up all my friends for money,” Shigley said. “But it’s a necessary evil.”

Ken Hodges, who served as district attorney in Albany for 12 years, is running to fill an open seat on the Georgia Court of Appeals. (Handout)
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

As of the end of March, Shigley’s campaign had raised an additional $291,650 in cash and in-kind contributions, according to disclosure reports.

Ken Hodges, 52, has loaned no money to his campaign. It raised $458,974 in contributions by the end of March.

“We’re out-raising him by a substantial amount,” Hodges said. “He raised a lot of money from a lawyer who lives in his own house to catch up with me.”

In 2012, Shigley sought an appointment to the appeals court. He made it to Gov. Nathan Deal’s short list but was not selected. This time, Shigley is hoping Georgia voters put him on the court.

Last June, Sally, his wife of 34 years, died after a long battle with recurring brain tumors. The day she began hospice care, she went over her funeral arrangements and then said, “Don’t quit that judge’s race,” Shigley said.

As a young lawyer, Shigley served as an assistant district attorney in West Georgia. He later worked for an Atlanta law firm and defended civil lawsuits for insurance companies and state and local governments. More recently, Shigley has been a plaintiff’s lawyer, specializing in wrongful death cases against trucking companies.

Shigley is a former member of the governor’s criminal justice reform council. In 2011 and 2012, he served a yearlong stint as the president of the State Bar.

Hodges, who will be sworn in as State Bar president a few weeks after the election, cannot possibly handle the demands of simultaneously heading the State Bar and sitting as an appeals court judge, Shigley said.

“I’m going to focus on this job if I’m elected,” Shigley said. “I know by experience that being State Bar president is like drinking from a firehouse for a year.”

Hodges, 52, said he can attend to both positions. 

“I am the most qualified candidate for the court because I have the most diverse background,” Hodges said. “His singular focus has been filing lawsuits for people hit by trucks.”

For 12 years, Hodges served as Dougherty County district attorney and prosecuted a number of high-profile cases. Among them was his help obtaining murder and racketeering convictions against former DeKalb County Sheriff Sidney Dorsey in a trial that was moved to Albany because of pretrial publicity.

More recently, Hodges has been a private attorney. In 2013, he represented former state Sen. Don Balfour, who was acquitted by a Fulton County jury of falsifying his expense reports.

Hodges later persuaded a judge to order the state to pay more than $156,000 in legal fees that Balfour incurred defending himself. That was particularly satisfying to Hodges because Balfour was prosecuted by the State Attorney General’s Office headed by then-Attorney General Sam Olens. In 2010, Hodges, running as a Democrat, lost a statewide election to Olens to become Georgia’s attorney general.

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