Portrait unveiled as colleagues honor Cobb Judge Brantley

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Sep. 22—MARIETTA — Cobb County's legal community took a break from busy schedules Wednesday to honor one of their own, unveiling a portrait of G. Grant Brantley, a Cobb Superior Court senior judge.

Brantley, a retired Georgia Air National Guard brigadier general and longtime Cobb attorney, serves as one of the Superior Court's eight senior judges — retired judges who have reached their retirement and pension age and are granted senior status by the governor. The senior judges work part-time and sit as acting Superior Court judges.

"I'm not going to give a speech," Brantley said after colleagues had sung his praises. "I'm thankful for everyone here. I'm thankful for my colleagues ... taking time away from their public duties. I appreciate it very much."

Brantley was born in south Georgia and raised in Griffin, the MDJ previously reported. After graduating from Emory Law School in 1964 he joined the Air Force as a judge advocate. After his military service, he moved to Cobb. Over the years he served in a variety of government positions, including as a Cobb County attorney, city attorney for Kennesaw, associate attorney for the Cobb Development Authority, assistant city attorney for Acworth and assistant city attorney for Powder Springs.

Brantley served as an active Superior Court judge from 1980 to 1992.

He didn't seek reelection in 1992 because he was in the process of being nominated to the U.S. District Court by President George H. W. Bush. But the '92 election spoiled his call-up to the federal bench.

Buddy Darden, then a congressman representing Marietta, was asked about Brantley during the nomination process.

"I said 'Yeah, he's honest, he's good, he'll do a good job, he pays his taxes' ... All of a sudden out of nowhere comes Bill Clinton," Darden said.

Brantley spent many years in private practice in between stints as a judge. In 2004, he unsuccessfully challenged incumbent Georgia Supreme Court Justice Leah Ward Sears. In 2007, Brantley was appointed to his current senior judge post by Gov. Sonny Perdue.

'The biggest shocker of all'

Darden and former Gov. Roy Barnes recalled the 1980 election in which Brantley was elected Superior Court judge. In those days, Superior Court judicial elections were partisan.

In the years leading up to 1980, Brantley hooked up with "fledgling members of this little Republican Party that was kind of starting around the county at the time," Darden recalled.

That same year, Jimmy Carter, the only president to hail from Georgia, lost Cobb County (and the White House) to Ronald Reagan. And Mack Mattingly unseated longtime Democrat Herman Talmadge to become the first Republican U.S. senator from Georgia since Reconstruction.

Darden said Brantley ran a "masterful campaign."

"That was the biggest shocker of all, when Grant was elected to the Superior Court," Darden said. "But just what happened? The roof didn't fall in, court went right on and as Roy said, he was fair, he was conscientious, he was punctual — started on time, you better not be late, because he was going to be holding court whether you were there or not."

In 1994, another Republican, Bob Barr, unseated Darden. Darden drew big laughs when he described the event as "when the people decided that I needed to come back and practice law."

In 1980, Barnes had supported the Democrat Brantley beat — Luther Hames, a family friend. Barnes said he was a bit worried about Brantley taking office, but those fears were soon put to bed.

"Grant Brantley treated me as fairly as he treated everybody else. And if there is a greatest testament to somebody — let me tell you something, it's hard to forgive political enemies. I don't mind forgiving. I just want them to suffer just a little bit before I forgive them," Barnes joked. "And Grant Brantley never made me suffer."

Barnes called Brantley a "great man and even greater judge." He's always in control of the courtroom, and expects lawyers on both sides to be prepared, the governor said.

"If you're prepared, he will stay off your back and let you try your case. If you're not prepared, he's going to eat your guts, feathers and all, in front of the jury," Barnes said. "And you know what? That's the way it should be."

Darden, who joined the bar in 1968, said he was "kind of the golden boy" around the courthouse, until Brantley showed up a few years later.

"Capt. Brantley had just left the Air Force. And he was a little taller then, a little slimmer then, and moved a lot quicker back then. He would come into the courthouse and the ladies would swoon," Darden said.

The county attorney's office hired Brantley, Darden said, because he was a talented litigator, and the county didn't want him working for plaintiffs.

Then, in 2007, Brantley was back on the bench, Darden was practicing law, and it was just like old times.

"Claudia," Darden said, addressing Brantley's wife, "you've got a good man here. He's honest, he's fair, he's punctual, he's courteous. He knows the law, but doesn't think he knows everything."

Darden and Brantley have remained friends throughout. At a recent lunch in Asheville, Darden told Brantley, "Grant we've had a hell of a run haven't we?" Replied Brantley, "Yeah, and we still are."

'Nothing but great advice'

The portrait unveiled Wednesday was painted by Bulgarian-born artist Ross Rossin.

Rossin has been in the U.S. 22 years, and has done more than 800 portraits of presidents, senators, judges, businessmen and others. When showing the finished product to Brantley, ahead of Wednesday's event, the judge said he had a problem.

"It's too accurate," Brantley said, according to Rossin.

The portrait will hang in Courtroom 2000 at the Cobb County Courthouse.

Carl Bowers, the chief judge of the Cobb State Court, has known Brantley since Bowers was a child, owing to Brantley's friendship with his father, former Georgia Attorney General Mike Bowers. Brantley counseled a young Bowers when he was finishing up law school, and having some doubts about a legal career.

Later, when Bowers went into private practice, Brantley told him to remember he was not just practicing law, but running a business.

"He's given me great advice many, many times over the years when I worked with him," Bowers said. "I learned so much from him that I use today in the courtroom in state court."

Principally, Brantley taught Bowers that the judge runs the courtroom, a theme other speakers also touched on. That advice was crucial when Bowers was appointed to the state court bench in 2005.

"He taught me how to think and write like a lawyer. He taught me how to grow up to be a professional in this legal environment ... You were better to me than anybody could possibly expect. You've given me nothing but great advice. I treasure our friendship, and I want you to know that I love you with all my heart," Bowers said.