By Brian D. Poe, Esq.
Though convinced there was still good work to do from the bench, in 2008, the first female chief judge of the Fulton County Superior Court laid down the robe and passed on the gavel; fully understanding that longer service could have resulted in a Supreme Court of Georgia appointment or a federal judgeship.
Deferring midday siestas and exotic sunsets, Judge Thelma Wyatt Cummings Moore built Moore Law LLC, a full-service law and strategic crisis management firm nestled in a 100-year-old Victorian near historic College Park, Ga. She is now beholden to various court calendars. Evenings and weekends consumed with work. She litigates state and federal cases throughout Georgia, often encountering attorneys who once practiced in her courtroom. “I haven’t had a vacation since I retired,” she explains. “My practice is challenging, but thrilling, as every day can bring something new.”
Growing up in Amarillo, Texas, she overcame early tragedies. At age four, she watched her family’s home burn in the wee hours of the morning — an event thought to have been spurred by the Klan’s disdain of her father’s success as a local physician. At age 5, she lost her mother, and at age 10 she recalls embers of a burning cross in her front yard after her father dared to run for a school board position, roughly two years before his passing.
She has amassed well over 200 awards, and is a woman of many firsts: The first woman to serve full time on the Atlanta Municipal Court and City Court of Atlanta; the first African-American woman to serve on the State Courts of Georgia, and the first African-American woman to serve as chief administrative judge of a Georgia judicial circuit court. This summer, the State Bar of Georgia will honor her with the 2014 Randolph Thrower Lifetime Achievement Award for Commitment to Equality.
1. Your tenure on the bench is widely respected. What motivated you to leave such a prestigious position to practice again?
It was my privilege to serve on the bench for 31 years and have the esteem of colleagues and citizens. I decided to remain until my term ended so my judicial seat would be open for election by the people. I then moved on to another challenge. Now, Judge Kimberly Esmond Adams holds that position.
2. You were succeeded on the bench by an African American; however, there has been a decline in diversity in Fulton County. Do you believe the movement for diverse representation will be successful?
Advocacy for Action Inc. has undertaken a powerful role throughout Georgia to bring diversity to the forefront. We are making significant strides in increasing awareness of the need for diversity on the bench. Our movement will be successful as more citizens are educated and understand the impact of the judiciary on their lives. Judicial candidates should be scrutinized for qualifications and temperament, and the people should vote accordingly.
3. How has your childhood influenced your career?
I do know what it is to struggle. I know what it is to not have parents, and be left to raise oneself. So, I have considered my experiences throughout my time on the bench and in private practice; and I suppose I am motivated to protect the interests of the “underdog” and achieve justice for those who have been wronged.
4. How diverse is your clientele?
I have represented: A school system in an independent investigation; a non-profit governmental entity on increasing tourism; business owners in a corporate takeover; a national organization facing ethical issues; a national non-profit dealing with officers’ takeover; a corporation needing crisis management following negative media attention; celebrities in mediation; people facing dissolution and domestic issues; and white collar criminal defendants.
5. What does the future hold for The Honorable Thelma Wyatt Cummings Moore?
I’ve been blessed to serve and touch many lives through the law. I would like to expand my practice to include young lawyers who could benefit from my experience as we practice together. I would also like to plan regular trips to the beach between cases.