Spotlight: Judge Tabitha Ponder
Hon. Tabitha Ponder grew up understanding the importance of giving back. Now, as a mediator, and judge, she still finds time to give back to the legal community through the organizations she’s involved with, including the Georgia Association of Women Lawyers (GAWL) and the Georgia Association of Black Women Attorneys (GABWA).
The Importance of Community
As a first-generation lawyer, Tabitha found she had to look outside of her family for support when she started practicing. “When I was a baby lawyer, I found that being closely associated with other lawyers who were more experienced really helped me,” says Tabitha. “I’ve always sought out mentors throughout my career and after more than 20 years, still seek their counsel”.
She is currently on the board of the GAWL, whose mission is to assist women both privately and professionally. “I’ve always been involved in community-driven activities, as my dad was a pastor, so I’ve been volunteering since I was a teen,” she says. “Because of GAWL’s mission, there is a lot of community involvement around helping other women, and helping young women develop professionally. We have a prison initiative that helps women who have been incarcerated return to the workforce, and we sponsor community events.”
She is also a longtime member of GABWA, an organization that is often recognized at the annual state bar event for its commitment to community involvement. She became involved with the organization in 2014, when she moved to the Atlanta area from south Georgia. She appreciates not only the camaraderie and community service that these associations provide but the opportunity to continue her professional development as well.
In addition to working as a mediator, Tabitha is also a part-time judge and part-time staff to the Judicial Council’s Access to Justice Committee. “We are the committee that is tasked with ensuring that every Georgia citizen has access to the courts,” she says. “Unfortunately, we have more than a million unrepresented citizens in our judicial system; however, we have a shortage of lawyers, especially in rural areas.”
“We have a lot of attorneys in the Atlanta metro area, but when you move outside to the rural counties, there are seven counties with absolutely no attorneys,” she continues. “There is a lot to do in terms of access to justice — for example, we just completed a webinar for deaf and hard-of-hearing people. Some things are not visible — and sometimes that community is forgotten about.”
Committed to Community Since Childhood
Tabitha’s dad, Rev. Cornelius Ponder, Jr., was a pastor who started preaching when she was three years old. He was involved not just with the church, but also the community outside of church. He has also been the only person of color to run for mayor position in Moultrie, GA.
“Coming from a small town, the church is community-driven at its base, and as a pastor’s child, this was something all of us participated in as a family,” she says.
Tabitha is also the mother of three children — A’maya, 23, who just graduated from Georgia Tech, with highest honors; Lester, 19, who’s a sophomore at Georgia State; and Zacharya, who is 13 years old. When she’s not working or spending time with her family, she serves as a teacher in the youth department for Faith Christian Center of Austell and enjoys traveling and Spanish dancing.
A Love for Mediation
Tabitha’s first experience with mediation came when she was an insurance defense attorney and when mediation was just starting to take off. She’d been interested in the field but hadn’t taken the time to fully explore it as a career option until somewhat recently. “I’ve wanted to mediate for about 10 years, but I didn’t slow down enough until COVID-19 hit, and I thought, ‘here’s my time to train,’” she says. After training to become a mediator, she joined Miles in 2021, and has been steadily growing her practice since then.
“I love mediation,” she says. “I prefer to sit down and talk through a situation if it’s possible. Being adversarial is not my nature. Even though I’m an advocate as a lawyer, that’s never been my approach. One of my mentors once said, ‘you can always get more flies with honey than vinegar,’ and I’ve always applied that in my practice.”
Her approach serves her well. Whether she’s mediating, serving as a judge, or working on access to justice initiatives, her thoughtful, measured approach to her work helps ensure that parties and clients feel heard and respected.
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