Kemp names Shawn LaGrua to Georgia’s top court

Superior Court Judge Shawn Lagrua speaks in October as she presides a case in the courtroom where plexiglass dividers are installed at Fulton County Courthouse in Atlanta. On Tuesday, Gov. Brian Kemp named her to fill a vacancy on the state's Supreme Court. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Caption
Superior Court Judge Shawn Lagrua speaks in October as she presides a case in the courtroom where plexiglass dividers are installed at Fulton County Courthouse in Atlanta. On Tuesday, Gov. Brian Kemp named her to fill a vacancy on the state's Supreme Court. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Gov. Brian Kemp picked Fulton County Superior Court Judge Shawn LaGrua for an open Georgia Supreme Court seat on Tuesday, filling the position held by a retiring justice who sparked a legal battle after he announced months ago that he would step down after the November election.

Kemp picked LaGrua from among four finalists for the spot on the bench vacated by Justice Keith Blackwell, who made the unusual decision to announce in February that he would retire in November, giving the governor a chance to select his successor.

That triggered a lawsuit from two potential contenders for the seat — former U.S. Rep. John Barrow and former state Rep. Beth Beskin — to force an election. The state Supreme Court ruled against them in a 6-2 decision that empowered Kemp to appoint Blackwell’s successor.

“Judge LaGrua has spent a 30-year career serving her fellow Georgians, and I am confident that she will bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to the bench,” Kemp said in a statement.

LaGrua is a former prosecutor who rose to become the solicitor general for DeKalb County between 2004 and 2007, where she expanded the domestic violence unit and founded an anti-truancy initiative.

She later served three years as the inspector general of the secretary of state’s office, briefly working for Kemp when he was in the job, before she was named to a newly created seat on the Fulton County bench by then-Gov. Sonny Perdue.

She started an innovative alternative sentencing program shortly after she joined the court in 2010 called “My Journey Matters.” While other accountability courts focused on drug addicts or the mentally ill, LaGrua’s initiative was unique because it handled mostly violent offenders.

During monthly hearings, LaGrua balanced her role as a judge, enthusiastic cheerleader and demanding advocate who made clear to participants that they shouldn’t commit another serious crime while in the program — lest they suffer the consequences.

“When you mess up this opportunity, I’m not playing,” she told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution of the initiative. “You do another crime, I’m sending you to prison and I’m not feeling bad about it.”

LaGrua is the second appointment Kemp has made to the state Supreme Court. In March, he picked Court of Appeals Judge Carla Wong McMillian for the bench, which his office said made her the first Asian American woman to earn a spot on a Southeast state’s highest court.

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