Colleagues Remember Judge Charles Carnes
Judges credit longtime Fulton State chief for counsel as they learned the job
As she advanced through her own legal career, U.S. District Chief Judge Julie Carnes recalled that she would often hear praise for her father, Fulton County State Court Senior Judge Charles L. Carnes.
"At first I just thought people were saying nice things because of who he was," Julie Carnes said Wednesday, two days after her father died at the age of 86. "But I realized he had a real knack for bringing out the best in people. He ran a very collegial court, but a good court."
"It was his manner," she said. "He had a gift. He could be very firm and direct—he always was—but it was tempered with kindness and gentleness."
After Julie Carnes was appointed to the federal bench in 1992 by President George H.W. Bush, the father-and-daughter judges would often get together and talk shop, she said.
"We got very close after that," she recalled. "He was a very good example for me. When he had a trial, I'd go over to the house and he'd have all his files out. He appreciated the opportunity to prepare. He believed it was his job to be totally ready."
Her father continued to try cases for several years after taking senior status in 1998, Carnes said, and he remained quick-witted even as health issues became a problem over the last year or so.
"One thing I admired about Dad is that he knew when to quit," she said. "He wanted to step down before somebody said he should."
Charles Carnes was the youngest of 13 children in a poor family from Eton, Ga. He joined the Navy at 16 and served in World War II and the Korean War. When he returned, he worked his way through college and law school. He served as an assistant county attorney for Fulton County and held a seat on the Board of Education before his election to the Legislature.
In 1980, Carnes was elected to the State Court, where he was quickly made chief judge. He stayed put. Asked why, he said that being chief judge “is kind of like being the Speaker,” in charge of the institution.
Charles Carnes left behind his name, placed on the State Court building, and many lawyers and judges who remembered him well on Wednesday.
“There is no better trial judge in Georgia, and no wiser mentor to judges and lawyers than Charlie Carnes,” said U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Frank Hull, who served in the State Court from 1984 to 1990. “He trained so many new judges like me, we began to call the Fulton County State Court, ‘The Charlie Carnes Training School for Judges,’” said Hull. “It’s true; so many who served under him went on to judgeships. He always stressed the importance of judicial temperament, starting court on time.”
"The best thing I ever did was, the first hour after I was sworn in, going down to the court and introducing myself to Chief Judge Charlie Carnes," said Hull. "From that moment he guided and helped me in every way he could, both professionally and personally."