Jennifer Hafer 2017-07-27 21:12:06
Nels Peterson has a hard time keeping a job. In fact, the Kennesaw State alum held his last job for only a year. What that simple sentence belies, however, is Peterson’s rapid rise through Georgia legal circles all the way to the pinnacle of state jurisprudence, the Georgia Supreme Court. “It has been suggested that my ability to keep a job is lacking,” the Justice said wryly. “I certainly hope to keep this one longer.” In January, Gov. Nathan Deal appointed Peterson (Political Science, ’01) to fill one of two newly created vacancies on the state’s highest court. Prior to his appointment, Peterson served as a judge on the Georgia Court of Appeals. “I’ve never been someone focused on, ‘I want to do that,’” he said. “I’ve always focused on doing as good a job as I can–usually when you do that, opportunities present themselves.” A native of South Cobb, Peterson was among the first wave of home-schooled students to enroll in college. At the time, Peterson recalls it was very difficult for students like him to gain admission. Restrictive admissions policies also required extra testing, which cost more money. “All of those things kept me from applying to UGA or Georgia Tech,” he said. “But the University was making a concerted effort to market Kennesaw State to home-schooled students, and it created a much simpler admissions process.” Peterson said he had some idea he wanted to go to law school after earning his bachelor’s degree, so the value and convenience offered by Kennesaw State made his choice of becoming an Owl, an easy one. “It was a great school,” he said. “One of the great things about going to Kennesaw State is I have a built-in network of people where I live, and a network that’s becoming increasingly valuable and that has grown greatly since I was there.” In 2001, Peterson’s first job post-graduation was as a special assistant to then-President Betty Siegel, where he was responsible for helping create the president’s student leadership program, as well as laying the groundwork for the presidential scholarship program. After graduating from Harvard Law School, Peterson joined the prestigious Atlanta law firm of King & Spalding, where he defended the Coca-Cola Co. against claims of securities fraud and Caremark Rx against challenges to a $21 billion merger. His nearly three-year stint at King & Spalding would – to date – be his longest tenure, and would end with a call from then-Gov. Sonny Perdue’s office, where he would work first as deputy executive counsel and then as executive counsel. “Frankly, I hadn’t been looking to leave King & Spalding, but the governor’s office called and asked me to apply,” he said. And, here’s where the pace of his professional accomplishments begins to stack up. When Perdue’s term as governor came to an end, Peterson went to work for then-Attorney General, and now KSU President Sam Olens. In the AG’s office, Peterson first served as legal policy counsel, then as the state’s first solicitor general. He also worked for a year as a special assistant attorney general focused on the water wars between Georgia and Florida. On Jan. 5, 2016, Peterson left the AG’s office, and on Jan. 6, walked across the hall to the Board of Regents for the University System of Georgia where he served as the Board’s top in-house lawyer. Less than a year later, he would join the Georgia Court of Appeals. The problem with resting on one’s laurels, according to Peterson, is “they’re prickly.” “It seems like a small world, but networking is not a substitute for work ethic or doing a good job,” he said. “But, when you work hard and develop a reputation for working hard and doing a good job, opportunities follow.” Last year, the Georgia Supreme Court decided more than 300 cases by published opinion, and more than 1,000 by other disposition. “This is a great job on a great court,” Peterson said. “This court does really important stuff. I have a lot to learn, and it’s a great opportunity.” Whether serving as president of the student government association, clerking for Judge William Pryor Jr. of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit (once considered a front-runner to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court of the United States) or coaching his 9-year-old son James’ baseball team, a humble Peterson said he just wants to do a good job. Peterson and his wife, Jennifer, also have a 6-year-old daughter, Elizabeth. “I want to decide cases according to the law, to do so in a timely manner and I want to get them right,” he said. “There are a lot of great judges in Georgia’s history, and if I can just decide the cases according to the law, I’ll be doing pretty good.”
Published by Kennesaw State / Kennesaw State University Magazine. View All Articles.
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