Judge Tripp Self – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia

The Georgia Court of Appeals has been a major source of federal judges for the Trump Administration: three of the 15 current judges have already been tapped to the federal bench.  Last week, we profiled Judge William Ray, who was nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.  Today, we look at Judge Tripp Self, who has been tapped to fill a vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia.

Background

Tilman Eugene (“Tripp’) Self was born in November 1968 in Macon, Georgia.  Self attended The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina, graduating in 1990 with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration degree.  Following his graduation, Self joined the U.S. Army as a Field Artillery Officer, serving in the Republic of Korea and Fort Stewart in Hinesville, Georgia.

In 1994,Self joined the University of Georgia School of Law, graduating in 1997 with a J.D. cum laude. Self then joined the Macon office of Sell & Melton LLP as an Associate.  In 2002, he was promoted to be a Partner.

In 2006, Self was elected to join the Georgia Superior Court, serving as a trial judge in Macon.  He was re-elected in 2010 and 2014.

In November 2016, Self was appointed by Republican Governor Nathan Deal to serve on the Georgia Court of Appeals.  Self currently serves as a judge on that court.

History of the Seat

The seat Self has been nominated for opened on September 1, 2016, with Judge C. Ashley Royal’s move to senior status.  As the vacancy opened fairly late in the Obama Presidency, no nomination was put forward to fill it.

Self submitted an application fill the vacancy in January 2017, and was interviewed by the Federal Judicial Appointment Screening Committee in March.  Self was formally nominated by President Trump on July 13, 2017.

Legal Experience

After graduating from law school, Self practiced at the Macon firm Sell & Melton LLP. for nine years (the last four as a Partner).  In his time there, Self described himself as the firm’s “utility infielder.”[1]  In other words, Self handled the cases that other partners did not want to be involved with.[2]  This involved focusing on civil litigation in Georgia state court.

Among his more significant cases, Self defended a man who had failed to file an answer to a civil lawsuit due to his limited mental capacity.[3]  While the man faced a $185,000 default judgment, Self was able to negotiate a small settlement and prevent the defendant from losing his home.[4]  The team ultimately reached a national settlement over the claims during simultaneous state court trials in Mississippi and New Jersey.[5]

Jurisprudence

While Self currently serves on the Georgia Court of Appeals, his tenure as an appellate judge is fairly short (only nine months).  In contrast, Self has spent ten years as a trial court judge.  As such, we will look at his more prominent rulings as a trial court judge.

Criminal Law

As a trial judge, Self established a conservative record on criminal justice, presiding over many complex cases, and handing out harsh sentences in some cases.  For example, Self handed the maximum sentence to a defendant who pled guilty to embracery.[6]  He also sentenced six defendants to life in prison without parole after their convictions for felony murder.[7]  In another case, the Georgia Court of Appeals reversed a defendant’s conviction based on an erroneous instruction offered to the jury by Self.[8]

Self also presided over several high-profile death penalty cases.  In one case, Self held that there was no constitutional bar from the death penalty for defendants who had unknowingly shot a law enforcement officer who was carrying out a “no knock” warrant.[9]  The Georgia Supreme Court affirmed Self’s decision in a 5-2 opinion.[10]  In dissent, Chief Justice Carol Hunstein argued that there was no rational basis for “imposing the death penalty on defendants who at the moment they fired the fatal shots neither knew nor should have known that their victim was a police officer.”[11]

Civil Law

On the civil side, Self held that a plaintiff who had dislocated her knee while bending down to pick up her fallen medication was not entitled to workers’ compensation, a decision that was reversed by the Georgia Court of Appeals.[12]  In another case, Self ruled against a plaintiff who was struck by the car of a deputy sheriff while fleeing from the police.[13]  The Georgia Court of Appeals overturned the decision, holding that there was a factual dispute as to whether the plaintiff had assumed the risk of injury by running from the police.[14]

Political Activity

Self has a long history of activity and contributions in the Georgia Republican Party. In addition to serving as the General Counsel for the Bibb County Republican Party, Self also served as the Bibb County chairman for the campaign of Gov. Sonny Perdue.  Additionally, Self donated $1000 to Sen. Saxby Chambliss, and $3000 to the Congressional Campaign of Calder Clay, who unsuccessfully challenged Democratic Rep. Jim Marshall twice.[15]  Additionally, Self has financially supported former President George W. Bush, Georgia senators Johnny Isakson and David Perdue, and the Presidential Campaign of Sen. Ted Cruz.[16]

Overall Assessment

Like his colleague Judge Ray, Self has developed a fairly conservative record on the bench.  Nevertheless, like Ray, Self’s record is not so severely conservative as to imperil his confirmation.  While critics may argue that Self’s decision in Harris and Davis show a bias against plaintiffs, it is unlikely that Republicans, who control the Senate, will view such a bias as disqualifying for the bench.  Furthermore, Self’s long record of public service and his deep history with the Georgia Republican Party will give him plenty of allies and support.  As such, Self, when confirmed, will add a conservative voice to the Middle District of Georgia.


[1] Senate Judiciary Questionnaire, Tilman Eugene Self, https://www.judiciary.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Self%20SJQ.pdf (last visited Sept. 24, 2017).  

[2] See id. (Sec. 16(b)(i)).

[3] Gardner v. Vincent, 03-CV-37954F (Ga. Super. Ct.) (Judge Winfield).  

[4] See id.

[5] See Perry, et al. v. Wyeth-Ayerst Laboratories Co., et al., No. 99-0089, Circuit Court of Jefferson County (Miss.) (Judge Pickard), Vadino, et al. v. American Home Products Corp., et al., No. MID-L-425-98, Superior Court, Middlesex County (N.J.) (Judge Corodemus).

[6] State v. Allen, No. 11-CR-042 (Ga. Super. Ct. 2011).  

[7] State v. Easton, No. 15-CR-107 (Ga. Super. Ct. 2015).  

[8] Dean v. State, 722 S.E.2d 436 (Ga. Ct. App. 2012).  

[9] State v. Jolly, Criminal Action No. 08-CR-63815, 2009 WL 6608746 (Ga. Super. Ct. Sept. 28, 2009), aff’d in part, vacated in part, and rev’d in part sub nom. Fair v. State, 702 S.E.2d. 420 (Ga. 2010).

[10] Fair v. State, 702 S.E.2d. 420 (Ga. 2010).

[11] See id. at 435 (Hunstein, C.J., dissenting).  

[12] Harris v. Peach Cnty. Bd. of Comm’rs, 674 S.E.2d 36 (Ga. Ct. App. 2009).  

[13] Davis v. Batchelor, Civil Action No. 07-V-0711 (Ga. Super. Ct. Nov. 12, 2008).

[14] Davis v. Batchelor, 686 S.E.2d 314 (Ga. Ct. App. 2009).

[15] Center for Responsive Politics, https://www.opensecrets.org/donor-lookup/results?name=tripp+self(last visited Sept. 24, 2017).  

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