For Judge Kelli Wolk (J.D. ’99), court is the shortest part of her day. As Probate Court judge in Cobb County, she processes weapons carry permits, marriage licenses, wills, guardianships, conservatorships and more. And, after a busy workday, she’s all about her nine-year-old daughter, who she homeschooled in between hearings when COVID-19 pandemic hit in the spring.
“My daughter now thinks she’s on a first name basis with Chief Justice Harold Melton because we’ve had so many conference calls with her in the background or her sitting next to me,” Wolk says.
Unlike some courts, which paused operations during COVID-19, probate court doesn’t stop. Wolk processes about 500 marriage licenses and 1,000 weapons permits per month. As the president of the Probate Judges Council, she has had several meetings with colleagues to figure out a new way to function since courts declared a judicial state of emergency in March. They have worked through everything from collecting fingerprints for background checks to conducting onsite emergency guardianship hearings in nursing homes.
Now that the state is re-opening, they’re looking at ways to implement social distancing, while not compromising efficiency. For example, Cobb County went from a walk-in to an appointment system for weapons carry permits. Though she says that they had to stop taking appointments because as of early June, they were booked until the end of August. There’s a constant flow of activity for the court, even in the midst of a pandemic, but for Wolk this is where she feels at home.
Her first inclination that she might like working in Probate Court came at Georgia State College of Law when she was a student in professor Mary Radford’s Wills, Trusts & Estates course. She initially came to the College of Law thinking that she would pursue entertainment law, because she’d previously worked for the Utah Jazz NBA team. However, contract negotiation didn’t resonate with her—but estate planning and guardianships did.
After graduating from the College of Law, Wolk landed a clerkship with her predecessor, Judge David A. Dodd. Those two years with Dodd proved an excellent training ground for her transition from private practice to judgeship in 2008. Throughout her three terms as a Probate Court judge, she has worked to educate the public about what Probate Courts do and why they’re important.
“This court is the one court where you don’t need to do anything intentional or do anything wrong, and you’ll end up here,” Wolk says. “In our court, all you need to do is be related to someone. This is the court that will touch every single person in your home county.”
Now that she’s up for re-election for her fourth term in her dream job, Wolk knows that she chose well when she decided to attend Georgia State Law. She initially came to Atlanta for law school to be closer to her father, who was a professor in the School of Social Work. She wound up with a degree, mentorship and much more.
“The three greatest decisions I ever made in my life are to marry my husband, have my daughter, and to go to Georgia State College of Law,” Wolk says. “Folks who are going there need to know while you’re in the middle of the hard part, that you made a good choice. You’re in a good a place.”
Written by Kelundra Smith