Judicial Heroes & Legends: January 2021 – Hon. Carol W. Hunstein

Hon. Carol W. Hunstein (Ret.)
(1944- )

Carol Hunstein overcame enormous personal challenges to become the second female chief justice of Georgia and a symbol of judicial independence.

The native of Miami, Florida, survived childhood polio and later bone cancer. After graduating from high school she married and had a baby, but the marriage didn’t last and her cancer returned. She lost her leg and nearly her life at age 24.

A chance meeting with the head of a vocational rehabilitation program led to an opportunity to attend college for free. She became the first person from her family to graduate from college.

She followed that with a law degree in 1976. One of only six women in her law school class of 65, she ended up marrying a classmate from Atlanta. She moved with him to Georgia but found the local firms weren’t interested in hiring a woman lawyer, so she practiced law on her own for eight years.

In 1984 she won election to the bench of the Superior Court of DeKalb County, becoming the first female superior court judge in the county.

In 1992 Georgia Governor Zell Miller nominated her to a seat on the state Supreme Court. She was later re-elected by the voters four times.

The most bruising of those campaigns came in 2006 when she faced a candidate backed by an out-of-state business group seeking tort reform. The outside group and the Georgia Republican Party combined to spend nearly $2 million trying to unseat her. Her own campaign raised $1.38 million, which itself was more than double the record for a candidate for the Georgia Supreme Court. The voters chose to retain her.

In 2009 she was unanimously elected chief justice to replace the court’s first-ever female chief, Leah Ward Sears.

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