As senior assistant district attorney, Harris said she’s prosecuted the county’s “murderers and rapists and armed robbers” in superior courtrooms since the DA’s office hired her straight out of law school.
She hopes to soon earn a seat on the other side of the bench she’s come to know so well.
To do that, Harris will have to best Juanita Stedman, a judge in Cobb’s Juvenile Court, in the July 22 runoff for retiring Judge Jim Bodiford’s seat. Bodiford has served on the Superior Court since his election in 1994.
Harris touted her “soup to nuts” time in the county’s highest court as one of her biggest strengths as a candidate.
“Every case that I handle, every case that I touch, it’s done in Superior Court,” the Smyrna resident said, adding her work passed through that court “whether it’s a plea, a trial or a dismissal.”
“An incredibly fulfilling job,’ she added.
Harris said she first entered the business world as an information systems consultant after receiving an undergraduate degree from Auburn University and moving to Cobb County.
“After talking for several years about wanting to go to law school, my husband finally said, ‘Either go, or quit talking about it!’” Harris recalled.
She said she discovered her passion for public service and prosecution while in law school at Vanderbilt University, joining the district attorney’s office immediately upon her graduation in May 1995.
She has served in the office ever since.
“It’s an incredibly fulfilling job,” she said. “I suspect it’s rare these days to find someone who can stay with the same career for 20 years and love it.”
Harris said she enjoys the feeling of making a difference her career has provided.
“I went into public service not because I wanted to do well, but because I wanted to do good.”
Among her proudest accomplishments as a prosecutor for the state, Harris listed several specific cases where she said she put a “very bad guy” in prison for a “very long time.”
“But more generally, I’m proud of the fact that I think I have served the citizens of Cobb County very well,” she said.
“I’ve kept my eye on public safety and protecting our families, but I’ve also kept my eye on the equally important ball of being fair.”
Harris noted the juvenile court Stedman heads, while accomplishing “some really good things,” has different goals than the Superior Court.
“The purpose of Juvenile Court is to reunite the juvenile offender with his family and keep him in the community,” she said. “Public safety is mentioned third or fourth down the list.”
By contrast, Harris said the Superior Court’s prevailing aim is to improve the safety of the community, often achieved by holding offenders accountable for their actions.
“Public safety starts with the cops, but it ends in the courtroom. And you’ve got to have experience on both ends, or you’re going to have some problems,” she said.
“I’m the one who has 20 years’ experience dealing with the issues and the problems that affect all of us here in Cobb County.”
Focus on reversal records
Harris noted four of her opponent’s cases have been reversed by appeals courts, while none of her own had ever been overturned.
She said reversals occur when the prosecutor or judge allows an error to happen.
“I think reversals are important because that goes to the heart of being a judge, because judges have to be students of the law,” Harris said, adding that laws are constantly evolving.
“If you have a judge that assumes they already know all the law, then mistakes are going to be made on the bench, because you should be constantly learning on the bench.”
When Harris broached the subject at a candidate debate at NorthStar Church in Kennesaw on Tuesday, which was sponsored by the Cobb Chamber and Acworth Business Association, she highlighted the importance of the expertise she has acquired during her years trying cases before the Superior Court.
“What you have to understand is, when you’re in court, it’s the practicing lawyers that have to know the laws. They are the ones that invoke a ruling from the court,” she said during the debate.
“When you have a judge that does not have that kind of experience, they make mistakes on the bench.”
In answering Stedman’s debate charge that Harris was only well-versed in the types of cases that make up 28 percent of the Superior Court’s docket, Harris pointed out the relative importance of those criminal cases.
“Most of (the Superior Court judges) devote almost two weeks a month to their criminal cases,” she said.
“When you pick up the MDJ or turn on the news, what you’re reading about is how the Superior Court is dealing with matters of public safety and the safety of our families.”
Harris is backed by District Attorney Vic Reynolds, who has publically endorsed her in the race.
“We are fortunate in that we have two fine candidates in this race. However, I believe Ann Harris is the best choice for Cobb County,” Reynolds said. “I have seen firsthand Ann’s unending dedication to the victims of crime and her effort to seek justice and hold defendants accountable the last 20 years in superior court.
“Ann is smart, she has a strong work ethic and she is tough when appropriate.”
State Rep. Rich Golick, chairman of the judiciary committee that deals with criminal law, also endorsed Harris in the early stages of her candidacy.
“I think she’ll be a very tough, but certainly fair, judge,” Golick said. “At the end of the day, what is the main priority to the community is public safety, and Ann Harris has spent nearly a generation protecting the safety of the community,”
Golick said he first met Harris years ago, when his wife was also a prosecutor in the DA’s office.
“What struck me about her then and now is the drive that she has. She is the hardest worker that I know. She has taken that drive and channeled that toward her work as a prosecutor.”
Golick noted Harris understands all the “nuances” involved in a judge’s role.
“I have every reason to believe she will take that drive and that superior work ethic and put that to the benefit of the people and the community as a Superior Court judge,” he said.