Leah Ward Sears (1955- )

Retired Justice Leah Ward Sears
Courtesy Smith, Gambrell, & Russell, LLP

Leah J. Ward Sears is a retired Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court. Sears served on the court from 1992 until June 2009. Appointed by Governor Zell Miller in 1992, Sears became the first African American woman chief justice of any state’s highest appellate court and the youngest person to serve as judge on the Fulton County Georgia Superior Court. Later that year Sears retained her position as a Supreme Court Justice and became the first woman to win a contested state-wide election in Georgia. Sears was appointed as Chief Justice in June 2005.

Prior to serving on the Georgia Supreme Court, Sears was the first woman and the youngest person to serve on the Fulton County Superior Court in 1988 as a trial judge. In 1982 Atlanta mayor Andrew Young appointed Sears to the City of Atlanta Traffic Court. Before becoming a judge, Sears worked as an attorney with the law firm of Alston and Bird in Atlanta.

Sears was born in Heidelberg, Germany, on June 13, 1955, and grew up in many different areas of the world as a child of an Army officer. After returning to the United States, the Sears family finally settled down in the Savannah, Georgia. Sears is one of three children born to the late Colonel Thomas E. Sears, who served as an Army aviator, and Onnye Jean Sears, an elementary teacher. Sears has two brothers, the late William Thomas (Tommy) and Michael.

Sears attended Alfred E. Beach High School in Savannah. Sears earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Cornell University in 1976. After graduation, she met and married her first husband, Love Collins. To this union two children were born, Addison and Brennan. Sears earned a Juris Doctorate from Emory University School of Law in 1980 and a Masters of Laws degree from the Virginia School of Law in 1995.

Sears is active in numerous professional and civic organizations including being the founder of the Georgia Association of Black Women Attorneys and the Columbus branch of Battered Women’s Project. She is an active member of many community boards around the State of Georgia as well as the Institute for American Values in New York City. Sears has also been the recipient of numerous awards and honors including honorary degrees from Spelman, Piedmont, LaGrange, and Morehouse College, in addition to Clark-Atlanta University and John Marshall Law School.

After 27 years of judiciary service, Sears retired from the Supreme Court of Georgia in 2009. After retirement, Sears joined the Atlanta office of the law firm of Schiff Hardin as a partner. Sears is a visiting professor at the University of Georgia School of Law teaching family law and serving as the William Thomas Sears Distinguished Fellow in Family Law at the Institute of American Values. In June 2010, Sears was elected to the Emory University Board of Trustee as an alumni trustee and a term trustee in 2016. In 2019, Sears was appointed by Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms to serve as Chair of the Task Force for the Promotion of Public Trust.

Currently, Sears, a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, lives in Atlanta with husband Haskell Ward, retired judge, and former deputy mayor of New York City, whom she married in 1999.