The Call To Public Service

An Alumna’s Journey to the Bench

Rachel Ross Krause (’96) has an easy answer for why she became a lawyer.

“I’d like to say that I was inspired by Perry Mason or ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’,” she said. “But really it’s because my mom used to tell me I could argue with a brick wall and win. She encouraged me to be a lawyer and never let me give up on that goal regardless of what life threw at me.”

Not even a life-changing accident on her 17th birthday discouraged her. Krause suffered burns and a spinal cord injury in an automobile accident in her hometown of Macon, Georgia. She spent two months recovering at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta where she learned how to get around using a wheelchair. She acknowledged it “made sense for a lot of reasons” to consider another career path, but she never did.

“I always counted myself as very lucky,” she said. “I really did always want to be a lawyer, and I just never changed my mind.”

College Days

A little more than a year later, Krause was a student at Georgia Southern in Statesboro. It was in the early years of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Looking back, she doesn’t recall significant issues with accessibility. What she remembered is a supportive college community.

“What I found (at Georgia Southern) is something that I have found throughout my life,” she explained. “When people are trying to accommodate you and make sure that you can access the things that you need to access, and there might not be a ramp, somebody will come out and help you.”

Krause thrived at Georgia Southern. She was involved in student government, joined a sorority and was a little sister for Sigma Nu fraternity.

“One of the stories I tell people all the time is that I went to Georgia Southern for my undergraduate degree, and then I stayed for a year to do my coursework for a master’s degree,” she commented. “And my family has always joked that if Georgia Southern had a law school, I never would have left.”

Becoming a Litigator and Judge

The political science major earned a law degree from the Walter F. George School of Law at Mercer University. She spent 10 years at a law firm in Atlanta where she specialized in life, health, disability, Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) law and general litigation. During those years, she handled her share of interesting cases.

“Every day, every case was different,” she noted. “But also, what I liked about it is there was enough similarity that you felt like you developed some expertise, so I never felt like I was bored with seeing the same thing over and over.”

Krause never aspired to become a judge, but when a position opened on the bench, she found herself profoundly interested. She applied for the open seat and before leaving office last year, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal appointed her to the Fulton County Superior Court bench. Krause was drawn to the job because she wanted to make a difference in her community. The biggest challenge she has faced is “feeling like I am doing the right thing when I make decisions that affect criminal defendants and their victims and families.”

“I’m almost always seeing people at the lowest points of their lives. I’m seeing a defendant who’s accused of awful, awful, horrible things,” she said. “I’m seeing victims of those crimes who have had to suffer through those horrible things. I’m seeing businesses that are falling apart because the owners are fighting with each other or people who’ve been injured and are suing.”

On the Bench

She recalled the very first trial she presided over. It was a murder case and one that still sticks with her.

“The defendant and the victim both had positive backgrounds with family members who loved them and were supportive,” she said. “They both graduated from high school. They both had jobs and the fact that one of them was convicted of murder and the other one was dead just struck me as how wasteful and sad it was. It just seemed so senseless and that really broke my heart.”

As an attorney, Krause knew the law and how the judicial system worked, but now that she has a different role in the courtroom, she has learned what it takes to be a smart and prepared jurist.

“Socrates once said that four things belong to a good judge: to listen courteously, to answer wisely, to consider soberly and to decide impartially,” she noted. “Everybody knows that judges have to try and make decisions and be fair to both sides. But I don’t think that people realize the extent to which judges really do just have to sit there and listen and let the information be given to them before they decide how they’re going to decide.”

Judge Krause must make tough decisions in her courtroom, but in many instances, her decisions offer defendants a glimmer of hope.

“Even if it’s sentencing someone to prison or probation, at least I’m giving them guidance on what they have to do to regain their place in society,” she said. “I am giving crime victims closure. I am helping litigants resolve their lawsuits and move on with their lives and that is something that just really energizes me.”

The judge’s happiest moments in the courtroom usually involve adoption cases. She said, “It is such a wonderful and positive thing that we get to do amidst much of what we do, which can be so sad.”

Off the Bench

Krause said serving on the bench wouldn’t be possible without the support of her husband, Tom, and their daughters Alden, Madelyn and Peyton.

“I am blessed to have found a wonderful husband who has helped me continue to succeed and work hard while also having a fulfilling family life,” she said. “My husband and I have a great partnership. He always makes me laugh and helps me let go of the stress of my job.”

In her downtime, she likes to cook, read and play with Cooper, the family’s black lab mutt. — Sandra Bennett