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Leah Ward Sears achieved several historical marks in the legal field in her home base of Georgia. She is the first African-American woman to be named Chief Justice in the United States, and the first woman to sit on the bench for Georgia’s Supreme Court.

Mrs. Sears, an Army brat, was born June 13, 1955 in Germany and raised primarily in Savannah, Ga. The future legal star earned her undergraduate degree from Cornell University in 1976, before earning a law degree from the Emory University School of Law in 1980 and a Master of Law degree from the University of Virginia Law School in 1995.

After practicing privately and working as an adjunct professor at Emory, Mayor Andrew Young appointed Sears to the Georgia Traffic Court bench. In 1988, she became first Black woman appointed as a Superior Court judge. Four years later, Gov. Zell Miller appointed her to the Georgia Supreme Court the first woman and youngest to hold the position.

In 2005, this after targeted attempts by Georgia Republicans and a conservative Christian coalition to have her defeated, Sears was elected the 30th Chief Justice of the Georgia’s Supreme Court and held the post until 2009, when she stepped down. Sears returned to a quieter private life but still pushed for diversity in law behind the scenes.

Sears started The Georgia Association of Black Women Attorneys and is currently a partner with the firm Smith, Gambrell & Russell working in its Business Litigation and Appellate divisions.

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