Jeff Davis (J.D. ’91) Appointed Executive Director of State Bar
The career journey for Jeff Davis (J.D. ’91), executive director of the State Bar of Georgia, began in a Chattanooga courtroom. Davis was among those watching attorney Bobby Lee Cook cross examine a witness at a murder trial in 1988.
“I decided that I wanted to do criminal defense just like Bobby Lee Cook,” said Davis, citing Cook’s acquittal of Auburn football star Bobby Hoppe during that trial. “Cook would take a break outside during the trial and it was then that I met and shared with him that I was thinking of going to law school. He encouraged me and I was so inspired by him. That sealed the deal for me.”
A Chattanooga native, Davis worked with criminal defense attorney Bruce S. Harvey in Atlanta. Later, he became director of the Judicial Qualifications Commission, the Georgia agency that investigates judges. “Ethics became a focus for me in my career,” Davis said. “Ethics is a thread that has run through most of my career.”
Davis took the helm at the State Bar of Georgia in June, filling the post vacated by the death of longtime bar leader Cliff Brashier. Davis worked with Brashier as assistant general counsel and assistant bar counsel for the State Bar during the 1990s.
“Jeff brings intelligence, professionalism, personal charisma and vision to his new position, and all Georgia lawyers will benefit greatly from his service,” said Roy Sobelson, professor and associate dean for academic affairs at Georgia State Law. “ “He has a love for the law and lawyers, and an infectious optimism that few could muster, even under the best of circumstances.”
Davis’ goals include bolstering the involvement of young lawyers and promoting State Bar services, including FastCase, a free online legal research tool offered to members. He’s also focused on expanding programs, including a mentorship for new lawyers and solo practitioners, who are transitioning into practice.
“It’s critical to have the correct development and to have someone to rely on,” Davis said. “It’s very important to have that educational component and be surrounded by mentors to avoid mistakes.”
At the commission from 2010 to mid-2014, Davis was proactive in educating judges about ethical pitfalls and ramped up training, including with an ethics boot camp.
“I had no idea that during my tenure, JQC would preside over one of the most busiest times since 1972,” Davis said. “We handled a lot of cases, resignations, removals and hearings of judges who engaged in unethical conduct.”
Shortly before Davis left for the State Bar of Georgia, the commission received a First Amendment Award for its work in ensuring that courtrooms were more open to the public.
Classmate Peter Bluestone (J.D. ’91) interned with Davis at the Southern Prisoners Defense Committee, now the Southern Center for Human Rights.
“Even back then, Davis believed that the law should work for everyone in a fair and ethical manner,” said Bluestone, a senior research associate with Georgia State’s Andrew Young School of Policy Studies Center for State and Local Finance.
Bluestone introduced Davis to Carrie Christie (J.D. ’89), his wife of 26 years and a partner at Rutherford & Christie. Davis and Christie have three children, including Dylan Davis (J.D. ’16).
Prior to his public service, Davis spent a decade in private practice with Winkler DuBose & Davis in Madison. During that time, he obtained a master of theological studies from Emory University, which he said helped with the judicial ethics hurdles at the commission.
Davis fondly recalls his first criminal defense job with Harvey from 1989 to 1992. The job market was tough and legal jobs scarce.
“I volunteered with Bruce Harvey for more than a year, hoping he would see my value and hire me as an associate, which he did when I graduated,” Davis said. “He bought me a suit for my graduation, and I wore it every day for a year.”