Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal has appointed Sweet Briar graduate Verda M. Andrews Colvin ’87 to a Superior Court judgeship in the Macon Judicial Circuit. She will serve the remaining term of retiring Judge S. Phillip Brown and beyond if reelected in 2016. She is being sworn in April 16.
Several weeks after her interview with the governor — which she thought she’d “knocked out of the park,” doing herself and her office proud — Colvin learned that she’d been chosen out of the four finalists. When she takes office, she’ll become the first black female to hold a Superior Court judgeship in the circuit, which covers Bibb, Crawford and Peach counties.
That weighs on her, she told The Telegraph in a March 30 profile.
“I do feel especially mindful that I am starting a legacy and starting something that’s new for our community,” she said. “For me, that adds enormous responsibility on my shoulders that I have to represent my community well overall, but also be a sign and a symbol that women and minorities are capable of holding office and doing a fantastic job.”
The appointment was an unexpected turn for Colvin, a Macon resident who has served as an assistant U.S. attorney since 1999. As a federal prosecutor assigned to the criminal section in the Middle District of Georgia, she has handled cases involving drug cartels, gang activity, violent and white-collar crimes, human trafficking and child pornography. Her resume lists several notable cases in which her work garnered recognition from the FBI and DEA, as well as a nomination for the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys Directors Award.
Amid family, community and work commitments, Colvin had nearly forgotten she’d once coveted a spot on the bench. Although she loved trying cases, short of an opening for U.S. attorney, her career was at a crossroads.
“I was so into what I was doing. The bigger, the more complex [the case], the better, because it just pushed me to another level,” she says. “My big thing is, I always want to be growing. I’ve done some things my office has never done, I’ve tried some big cases. I was starting to think ‘where do I go from here?’ ”
Meanwhile, people were urging her to apply for the Superior Court vacancy. Her boss, U.S. Attorney Michael Moore, was one of them.
“Once he said that, I thought about it, I had been praying for a couple of years asking God to show me what I had to do because I felt like I needed to serve in a greater capacity,” says Colvin, who at one time thought about becoming a missionary.
After her appointment, Moore told The Telegraph his assistant is a talented lawyer with street smarts, common sense and a “unique passion” for showing young people a better way than crime.
Colvin will handle half the civil cases in Bibb County and preside over a domestic and mental health court. People often tell her they sense a presence and sincerity in her they find inspiring, she says. She hopes her new job will provide opportunities to use that influence.
“I like being respectful, kind to others and I think many times, people don’t see that in a lot of our leaders. I always thought, ‘How cool would it be to be in a [position] where people get to see that on a daily basis and know that it’s real.’ … I think I can do that differently, and I think in a bigger way as a sitting judge, than I can even do as a federal prosecutor.”
Fairness is paramount to Colvin. Ironically, despite early trepidation about being the “bad guy,” she found prosecuting criminals allowed her to help people more effectively than defending them — which is how she thought she would “change the world” as a lawyer.
“From the defense side, you just have to deal with the hand you’re given, but as a prosecutor, I get to be fair-minded and say, ‘OK, what really needs to happen here, how would justice truly be served?’ So I felt like I had more control over making sure people received the proper consideration as a prosecutor than I ever had as a defense attorney.”
After graduating from Sweet Briar with degrees in government and religion, Colvin earned her J.D. at the University of Georgia in 1990. She started her career in a private practice in Charlotte, N.C., representing clients in everything from criminal defense to personal injury to family and consumer law. It quickly became disillusioning and too often ended in settlements rather than trials. When the opportunity arose, she went to work as an assistant solicitor for local government and worked her way up to her present position.
Colvin grew up in the Greenbriar area, a predominantly African-American neighborhood in Atlanta. Graduating near the top of her class, she remembers being courted by Yale and other big-name schools. But a Sweet Briar recruiter she had met at a college fair lured her with a simple gesture: a handwritten letter with her name spelled correctly.
The care and effort the recruiter showed appealed to Colvin’s “touchy-feely” nature.
“I’m really big on people because, to me, that’s what makes the world go around, that’s what makes it great to be alive and living and giving,” she says. “It helped that they offered scholarships, but that letter made me say, ‘I think this is where I want to go.’ ”
Attending a mostly white school, she also knew, would automatically broaden her worldview and foster the personal growth she craved. The education she received in and out of the classroom did the rest, she says.
“I just happened to be lucky enough — I should say, blessed enough — to pick a school that further enhanced [the idea of always expanding yourself]. I credit Sweet Briar with a lot. I think that was the place that I was supposed to be.”
Her fondest memories are of class discussions — especially a philosophy professor who challenged her spirituality and made her question assumptions. Those experiences made her a lifelong thinker, she says.
She also recalls fun times with the Aints ’n’ Asses and breaking down in fellow Georgian and classmate Teresa Pike Tomlinson’s Volkswagen Beetle on trips home. But she doesn’t stay in touch with the College other than the occasional donation. That’s mainly because reminiscing about the past makes her sad, and she’d much rather laugh. A divorced mother, she also has been busy raising a son, now 18 and in college, and daughter, 10.
Colvin is active in her church’s women’s ministry and as a youth leader. She is on the Ocmulgee District Boy Scouts executive committee and works with Scoutreach, which raises money for socioeconomically disadvantaged boys to participate in Scouts. She even accompanied her Eagle Scout son on a 100-mile trek through the New Mexico wilderness at Philmont, logging one shower in 10 days. She also helped establish her daughter’s Girl Scout troop and led it for a few years.
Speaking by phone at the end of the workday, she was changing into running clothes and noting the time: five minutes until needing to leave for her daughter’s soccer practice.
So, she’s never made Reunion because there’s always some commitment that prevents her from going.
“But I have told my daughter, I said, ‘Taylor, I don’t know where you’ll go to school, but for my sake, you have to go see Sweet Briar and then you can decide.’ So I’m coming back. I’m coming back because I want her to see the institution that helped shape me into the woman I have become.”