Lawyer trades state house for courthouse

Lawyer trades state house for courthouse

DeKalb County State Court Judge Mike Jacobs said it was a successful 2015 state legislative session that led to his decision to become a judge.

“I don’t think I could have topped the 2015 legislative session in terms of what we accomplished,” Jacobs said. “It would have been a tough act to follow and certainly [was] a good time to move on from the General Assembly.

Jacobs received his bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and in 2003 received his law degree from the University of Georgia School of Law. 

After graduating from law school, Jacobs was an associate at Alston & Bird, where he worked in the bankruptcy practice group. Next he moved to Krevolin & Horst to work in business litigation. Moving to Hall, Booth, Smith & Slover, he worked in insurance defense before starting a solo practice focusing on consumer bankruptcy and representing defendant debtors.

“Not long after I graduated from law school and moved to DeKalb County from Athens, when the federal courts redrew the state House and Senate lines for the 2004 election, I found myself in an open state house seat,” Jacobs said. “So with my wife’s patience and indulgence, I qualified to run, walked the entire district twice and was elected.”

Serving in the legislature for a decade, Jacobs said he “developed a reputation for listening to everyone, being fair, and working well with my colleagues even when we did not agree.”

During the 2015 legislative session, which he described as “the most productive legislative session” he worked in, Jacobs was the primary sponsor of HB 213, which permanently repealed the “50-50” spending restriction that constrained MARTA’s financial flexibility;

He sponsored HB 215, which set up a SPLOST referendum to address DeKalb’s infrastructure needs.

Additionally Jacobs was “heavily involved” with Reps. Mary Margaret Oliver and Pam Stephenson in HB 300, creating the DeKalb State Court Traffic Division and eliminating the troubled Recorders Court. He also cosponsored HB 597, which reformed the DeKalb Board of Ethics and was involved in legislation that changed the county purchasing policy and set up the county’s internal audit function.

“It was a very productive session,” Jacobs said. “I think that session spoke very well of what we can accomplish if we listen to one another and work to find common ground in DeKalb County.

“I hope that everything that we accomplished in the 2015 session and how we accomplished it is part of my legacy going forward,”  Jacobs said. “And I certainly don’t take credit for all of it, because we really did notch all of those accomplishments as a team.”

His success during the 2015 legislative session is one reason he decided to switch to the courthouse.

“Legislative service is not meant to last forever,” Jacobs said. “We’re a citizen legislature and ultimately new people need to come in and make their mark for the benefit of the citizens of our county and our state.”

In the General Assembly, Jacobs served four years as vice chairman of the House judiciary committee and seven years as chairman of one of the two subcommittees of the House judiciary committee.

Jacobs said he “built a reputation for listening to all sides of an issue and trying to be fair to all of the stakeholders, which is exactly the sort of thing that our judges should be doing.”

It was a logical transition to the courthouse when two seats opened up, Jacobs said. He became a state court judge in June 2015. 

“I’m enjoying it,” Jacobs said about being a judge. “I try to keep things lighter in my courtroom when appropriate. Ultimately I want all of the parties—lawyers and litigants—to leave my courtroom feeling that they got a fair hearing and that the experience was as pleasant as it could be under the circumstances.”

As a judge, Jacobs said he is seeking to identify resources “to address the addiction, mental health and other similar issues that we encounter on a regular basis in criminal cases.”

Jacobs said there are some “outstanding resources in place already,” but “those resources are not adequate to address all of the issues that find their way into the criminal justice system.

“Ultimately, as state court judges, we are the first line of defense in the criminal justice system in the sense that …defendants that appear in our courtroom, if they’re not empowered to address underlying issues in their lives, may find themselves back into the criminal justice system—next time with a felony charge,” Jacobs said.

When he’s not at work, Jacobs often can be found often at his children’s soccer practices and games and swim meets. 

Jacobs’ wife of 13 years, Evan, is a speech-language pathologist at Lakeside High School. The couple have three children: Jonah, 9, Eli, 7, and Samantha, 5.

“Family time is obviously the main thing that I do outside the courthouse,” he said.

Jacobs said that one interesting aspect of his job is that occasionally he finds himself applying legal statutes that he helped to write.

“It helps you recognize that the law is like a fabric that many, many people over many, many years had a hand in developing and is still a work in progress,” Jacobs said. 

“It’s interesting to run into a little piece of something in those [law] books that I had a hand in writing, but then recognizing that there’s so much in the law that greatly affect the day-to-day lives of the citizens of DeKalb County and…the state of Georgia.

“We all do our part to make things a little better and then move on,” Jacobs said.

 

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  1. Pete Followill says:

    Good article, although it doesn’t state whether Judge Jacobs was appointed or elected to the Dekalb Co. State Court bench.

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