Interview with Judge Walter Davis

By Aimee Maxwell

On July 15, 2019, Governor Brian Kemp announced the judge who will head Georgia’s new statewide Business Court. The Business Court, a new class of court, was established by constitutional amendment in 2018. The Governor’s selection, Walter Davis, is a veteran litigator with over 17 years of experience handling complex business cases with Jones Day in Atlanta.

Once confirmed by the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, Davis will take on the task of getting this new court up and running and will begin hearing cases in August 2020. Governor Kemp believes Walter Davis is the right person for the job.

Davis received his BA in Philosophy and Political Science from Mercer University and his law degree from Vanderbilt University. Before joining Jones Day, Davis clerked for Judge Beverly B. Martin, then United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia. According to the Jones Day website, “Walter Davis focuses his practice on securities litigation, shareholder disputes, and corporate governance matters and regularly counsels boards of directors and senior management in connection with governmental and internal investigations.” He is also their Administrative Partner and previously served as the Hiring Partner for the Atlanta office.

Often practicing in the Delaware Court of Chancery, he is well versed in the workings of the country’s premiere business court and the value of a specialized court to hear complex corporate cases. Following the passage of the constitutional amendment creating the Business Court late last year, Davis, along with his colleague, Bob Watts, also of Jones Day, was called upon to assist Chuck Efstration, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, with drafting the enabling legislation establishing the business court during the 2019 legislative session. Governor Kemp signed the legislation in May of this year.

The court will be good for Georgia. “Georgia is one of the top states for economic development by almost every measure, and as business continues to grow, Georgia needs a court designed to meet the needs of these enterprises.” The new Business Court is loosely modeled after similar courts in other states, including Delaware.

To make sure lawyers and businesses know about the new court, Davis is planning to travel the state to educate folks about the importance of the business court and how it will work. He plans to continue this commitment to all of Georgia by “riding the circuit” to hear cases. Making himself available to litigants throughout the state, Davis hopes to build trust in the court. “When they realize the court is designed to be accessible and responsive, hopefully we will see more people using it.”

The decision to take the helm of the Business Court was not a decision Davis made lightly. “I never aspired to be a judge. I don’t know what it’s going to be like.” As a litigator, “I like the relationship aspect of my practice and I really enjoyed counseling clients. It’s going to be hard not to be an advocate.” Another thing he’s getting ready for is life as the lone Business Court judge. “A big firm is communal. You do not do your work alone. I currently worked with a terrific team and have other lawyers willing to brainstorm ideas with me. I feel certain I will miss that collaboration.”

“I enjoy practicing at Jones Day immensely and being Administrative Partner, and maintaining a successful practice, is challenging. I am very happy in my career, and I guess you could say I am leaving on my best day.”

Why would Davis leave his large law firm job to take on this new challenge? “It’s a once in a career opportunity. I knew I would regret it if I turned it down.” Davis grew up in a family committed to public service. His dad was in the military and his mom was a public-school teacher. His three sisters also work in the public sector working in education, public health and at the U.S. State Department. He was always attracted to public service but “I wanted to find a way to serve that falls within what I know how to do. Now I’ve found that opportunity.”

“This was an incredibly difficult decision. I have a responsibility to my family and to my law firm. But one thing that is appealing is that I can now talk to my kids about finding the courage to make a difficult decision and the value of service.” Taking this job will mean his family is making an obvious financial sacrifice, but he placed a high value on other considerations, particularly the lessons his children may take from this experience: “I like that my kids will know me, not just as a practicing lawyer, but as a public servant and a member of the judiciary. Some things are worth sacrificing for.”

Davis aspires to be the type of judge lawyers want to practice before. Fair and impartial while understanding the needs of the litigants. He appreciates judges who are level-headed and are available to the parties to resolve issues. He thinks it’s important to meet regularly with parties to find out what they need, as many judges have done for him over the years. Davis takes inspiration from U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Roberts who believes, “it’s my job to simply call balls and strikes.”

Davis plans to spend time doing outreach, not only to lawyers and businesses throughout Georgia, but also to young people. Since participating in Leadership Atlanta last year, Davis has recognized the importance of engaging students in what it means to be a lawyer. In addition to teaching at UGA Law School next Spring, Davis hopes to work with high school and college students as part of his outreach as a judge.

What are his hopes for Georgia’s Business Court? “I want it to be respected by the members of the bar and relevant to the state. If people are using the court, then it means I will have accomplished what I set out to achieve.”