Her career was sailing straight when the course changed for Carla Wong McMillian.
The Augusta native was settled in to a prestigious position practicing law in Atlanta for Sutherland, Asbill and Brennan. She was living south of the city with her husband and two children, happy to have found a healthy work-life balance.
“I expected to be in private practice for my whole career,” said McMillian, who was recently sworn in to the Georgia Court of Appeals. “I was very happy doing that.”
In 2010, two State Court judges in Fayette County resigned. McMillian saw an opportunity to serve her home community and was appointed to the bench.
“Having lived in that community for a number of years, I was concerned about my community, my judiciary,” she said.
Despite never aspiring to be a judge, McMillian found she fulfilled an important civic duty upholding the law and meting out justice to its violators.
“I saw a cross-section of the entire community coming through State Court,” she said.
After winning a contested election in July, McMillian was nominated and applied for the appellate court. Gov. Nathan Deal selected her from a short list of candidates. More than 75 people were nominated for the seat, 33 applied and 16 were interviewed.
McMillian was sworn in at the state Capitol on Jan. 24, becoming the first Asian-American judge on the appellate bench.
Her grandparents migrated to Augusta in the 1920s and opened a small grocery store. Her father was born in the back room of the store, and her mother came from Hong Kong to Augusta in the 1970s.
McMillian said mentors throughout her schooling and early career helped lead her to the legal profession.
A high school professor at Westminster Schools of Augusta first encouraged her to apply to law school. David Hanks, a lawyer at Fulcher Hagler in Augusta, introduced her to work with a law firm during the summer after her first year in law school.
A federal law clerkship with Judge William O’Kelley also helped her when she put on a judge’s robe.
“He really showed me what it was like to be a judge,” she said.
McMillian said she will work hard to hand down clear and consistent rulings.