Please tell us a little about your background. Where did you grow up? What’s your educational background?
I grew up in the great community of Dalton and graduated from Dalton High School. I am the youngest of three brothers and we are fortunate to have both of our parents still with us and engaged in our lives. We had an active household and were involved in church, school, athletics, and community activities. My maternal grandfather co-founded J&J Industries and the commercial carpet business was an integral part of my life until J&J was sold a few years ago.
My wife, Lynsey, and I have three children.
I am a “Double Dawg.” I graduated from the Terry College of Business (Management) and the School of Law at the University of Georgia.
After law school, I clerked for Judge Charlie Pannell on the U.S. District Court in Atlanta. We returned home to Dalton, where I practiced with Minor Bell & Neal (now The Minor Firm) before working with J&J for over a decade. During those years, I served on the Dalton City Council and in the Georgia Senate.
Prior to coming to the Supreme Court, I served on the Georgia Court of Appeals.
How did your previous jobs prepare you to serve on the Georgia Supreme Court?
I’m not entirely sure they did!
That said, I do feel like all of my work and life experiences offer something instructive to my current role. Of course, clerking gave me a front row seat to judicial life, and the Court of Appeals developed my skills in working up appellate cases. I also think my experiences working with employees on the production floor and working in the legislature shaped my skills at listening, analyzing, and explaining in ways that the traditional practice of law did not.
What motivated you to study law?
My father studied law and always valued his legal education. I wanted to be trained to think like an attorney. I love our system of laws and the entire American concept of self-governing free citizens managing their own affairs through the rule of law.
What are your passions when you are off the bench?
Family time is highly treasured in the Bethel family. I can be happy doing nearly anything with Lynsey and our children. And I have the best nieces and nephews an Uncle has ever had. I also love my church, my community, and amateur athletics. I enjoy attending local High School sporting events and we enjoy community theater. I have a chronic condition that requires treatment around six Saturdays every year at Sanford Stadium in Athens. Coach Smart has been able to provide beneficial therapy for that condition the last few years.
Who has influenced your career?
Of course, Governor Deal allowed me to work closely with his Administration while I was in the legislature and he appointed me to both of my last two positions. Judge Pannell gave me the first job in my legal career and I appreciate his guidance and support throughout my entire life (my father served as his Assistant District Attorney). I have admired Justice George Carley as a person and jurist. Judge Lisa Branch truly helped me get my feet under me at the Court of Appeals as did Chief Judge (and Georgia’s Twitter Laureate) Stephen Dillard. I will stop with names in hopes of not hurting the feelings of any one of the dozens of people who have believed in, invested in, and supported me. I will add that my staff at the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court are great people and have helped me learn and grow.
What do you feel is the most rewarding part of being a Supreme Court Justice so far? Hardest part of the job?
I love the opportunity to be of service to our shared State. Also, I am grateful for the opportunity to work with the people at the court. My colleagues and our staff provide a great work environment.
The hardest parts, so far, fall into two categories. First, cases where the law appears unclear result in a great deal of anxiety about making sure we provide clear and accurate guidance to the bench and bar. Second, my home is in Dalton, which creates some challenges in making sure I discharge the community responsibilities of my job while being a good husband and father.