Long-serving DeKalb County judge announces retirement

Judge Clarence Seeliger is known for stopping the proposal to build a highway through several Atlanta neighborhoods
Judge Clarence Seeliger presides over a 2016 court case. AJC file

Judge Clarence Seeliger presides over a 2016 court case. AJC file

DeKalb County Superior Court Judge Clarence Seeliger will retire after 40 years on the bench.

Seeliger, who presided over several high-profile cases during his four decades as a jurist, announced Thursday that he will not run for re-election next year. His term will be complete at the end of 2020.

His judicial career began in the early 1980s when he defeated 30-year incumbent Judge J. Oscar Mitchell for a seat on DeKalb’s State Court. Mitchell was the judge that sent Martin Luther King Jr. to prison on a probation violation charge that stemmed from a traffic ticket and a sit-in arrest.

Seeliger then hired Nesby Thomas as the first black bailiff in the history of the DeKalb State Court.

Judge Clarence Seeliger

Credit: DeKalb County Superior Court

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Credit: DeKalb County Superior Court

Soon after being elected, Seeliger made headlines when he banished a Confederate flag that hung in his courtroom, saying it was “unacceptable in a court of law.”

He was elected to the Superior Court in 1984. Starting in 1985, he presided over a yearslong case that has become his most well-known: the Presidential Parkway.

The state wanted to build a major highway running from downtown Atlanta through Inman Park, Candler Park and Decatur. Residents staunchly opposed the idea, and the fight over the freeway made its way into Seeliger’s courtroom.

» FROM 2015: Highway-fighting judge wants another mile

His ruling stopped the state from creating the highway, defying the wishes of former president Jimmy Carter and former Atlanta mayor Andrew Young. The case resulted in a settlement and the creation of the Freedom Parkway and a park next to the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum.

Looking back on his legacy, Seeliger said in a statement that he has been “honored to serve the citizens of DeKalb County, and grateful that the citizens of DeKalb have permitted me to do so.”

Seeliger, a Seattle native and U.S. Air Force veteran, has also been a strong advocate for domestic violence prevention effort, serving on several boards and task forces aimed at curbing family violence.

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