Leah Ward Sears
Smith, Gambrell & Russell, LLP
1105 W. Peachtree St. N.E.
Atlanta, GA 30309
With decades of experience as an attorney, a jurist and an elected official, Ms. Sears brings a powerful combination of strategy, analytical thinking and tactical action that gives her clients a compelling edge in complex appeals, litigation, arbitration and mediation.
Her first-hand knowledge as a retired Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice gives her extraordinary insight into the thinking and mindset of both trial and appellate courts in state and federal jurisdictions across the US.
Known for her talent for breaking down complex matters to find the most elegant and straightforward solution that may not be apparent to others, Ms. Sears is also a gifted oral advocate, trial strategist and thought leader who can play devil’s advocate to reveal potential weaknesses and holes in both trial and appellate strategy.
Since returning to private practice, Ms. Sears has concentrated on prosecuting appeals in both the state and federal courts in many jurisdictions across the United States. This often means embedding with the trial team to develop and execute pretrial and trial strategy, build credible evidence, and begin positioning for an appeal while the trial is underway by preserving evidence and proactively looking for narrowly focused issues at trial that will help protect a hard-fought victory or overturn an unfavorable outcome.
She often consults with other lawyers on trial and appellate briefs, and presides over mock arguments to probe for weaknesses in their strategy or their application of the law and offer piercing yet pivotal insights on how appellate jurists will react.
Twice shortlisted by the President for appointment to the United States Supreme Court, Ms. Sears has been consistently ranked among Georgia Super Lawyers, a distinction for Georgia’s preeminent attorneys who are highly respected by peers for their professional achievements. She was also named in Best Lawyers in America©, and she was recognized as Lawyer of the Year for Appellate Practice for Atlanta.
Ms. Sears is a Fellow and a Board Member of the prestigious American Academy of Appellate Lawyers, an invitation-only organization limited to 500 lawyers who achieve distinction in their field.
Ms. Sears represents companies, large and small, as well as national and multinational corporations, governments, colleges and universities, health care systems, health care providers, executives and individuals on a wide variety of legal matters and has a successful track record of obtaining favorable outcomes.
She counsels clients on appeals, business and contractual disputes, litigation, arbitration and mediation, internal investigations, class actions, fraud, mass tort, medical malpractice and civil rights matters.
Ms. Sears’ experience includes:
- Rice et al v. Fulton County et al, a large class action filed in Fulton County Superior Court in which the president of the Atlanta City Council and four other people accuse Fulton County of inflating property tax valuations by “sales chasing,” which means raising the tax values of homes that were recently sold while leaving the rest of the neighborhood unchanged or little changed. In addition to Fulton County, the suit names 14 other cities within the county including the City of Atlanta.
- Rachkova vs. Fulton County et al, a large class action lawsuit in which a Fulton County homeowner claims the county missed a crucial deadline to complete thousands of property value appeals and now must accept lower assessed values for those properties. Tens of millions of dollars of potential county revenue are at risk.
- Copart of Connecticut, Inc. v. Lynette T. Riley in her official capacity as Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Revenue. Ms. Sears served as a Judge Pro Tempore in the Georgia Tax Tribunal to resolve a tax dispute.
- Thomas v. Tenet Healthsystem GB, Inc. Ms. Sears was appellate counsel in an appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court that overturned long standing case law in medical malpractice actions.
- Sears represented a medical practice on appeal of a $45 million verdict in a medical malpractice case involving pleading issues and the statues of limitations and repose.
- Sears represented a large hospital and doctors on appeal from a decision in a medical malpractice case.
- Sears serves as ongoing appellate counsel for a very large insurance company on a number of their appeals in the Southeastern United States.
- Sears is often retained to submit amicus curiae briefs including by the Council of State Court Judges of Georgia, the Medical Association of Georgia, the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, among others.
- Kangiser et al. v. The City of Atlanta, Georgia, Case No. S17C0505; Bowles et al v.The City of Atlanta, Case No.: S17C0506 (Georgia Supreme Court 2016). Ms. Sears was lead trial and appellate counsel and successfully defended the City of Atlanta in a lawsuit by over 90 plaintiffs over Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport’s fifth runway.
- AES Corporation v. Steadfast Insurance Company, 283 Va. 609, 725 S.E.2d 532 (Va. 2012). Ms. Sears successfully persuaded the Virginia Supreme Court that the client insurer did not have a duty to defend its insured in the face of a climate change nuisance case because intentional emissions, even if they have unintended results, are not an “accident” under the insurance policy. This case was widely watched and reported as the first of its kind, pitting the new breed of climate change defendants against their insurers.
- In re September 11 Litigation: Cedar & Washington Associates, LLC, v. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey et al. Ms. Sears successfully defended The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey against a developer seeking damages pursuant to the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) for damage stemming from the 9/11 terrorist attacks by arguing that the “act of war” defense nixes its indemnification claims and is otherwise consistent with more than 200 years of consistent interpretation and definition of the term “war” by Congress and the Supreme Court. The case was closely watched to establish liability in the most tragic, large-scale and deadly terrorist attack in U.S. history.
- Lima Delta Company, et al. v. Global Aerospace, Inc., 325 Ga. App. 76, 752 S.E.2d 135 (Ga. App. 2013). Ms. Sears won a high-risk and sensitive case for an insurance company client against jurisdiction and forum non conveniens claims made in a lawsuit filed in Georgia wherein the client was seeking to rescind a policy for losses arising out of a fatal 2012 plane crash in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The successful outcome for her client avoided setting dangerous precedent in the airplane insurance industry. Certiorari to the United State Supreme Court was denied.
- Atlanta National League Baseball Club, Inc. v. F.F., individually, et al., 328 Ga. App. 217, 761 S.E.2d. 613 (Ga. App. 2014). Ms. Sears successfully defended the Atlanta Braves Major League Baseball team in the Court of Appeals for the State of Georgia by arguing that the team met its duty to protect spectators. The lawsuit stemmed from a 2010 incident wherein a 6-year-old girl sitting a few rows behind the visitor’s dugout was hit and injured by a foul ball. The highly publicized case was covered by national media, and closely watched by attorneys and sports teams across the nation for the application of the “baseball rule” in stadium cases.
- U.S. Supreme Court
- U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
- U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
- U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia
- Cornell University, BS
- Law School
- Emory University, JD
- University of Virginia School of Law, LLM in Appellate Judicial Process
- American Academy of Appellate Lawyers — Board Member and Fellow
- Emory University — Board of Trustees
- The Carter Center — Board of Trustees
- Oakland Cemetery — Campaign Committee
- Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority
- Atlanta Chapter of Links, Incorporated — Alumni Member
Since Smith Gambrell Russell began practicing law in 1893, we have pursued a vision of building one of the country’s premier full-service business firms. Today we serve corporate counsel and corporations across the globe from offices in Atlanta, Georgia; Austin, Texas; Jacksonville, Florida; London, UK*; Los Angeles, California; Miami, Florida; Munich, Germany; New York, New York; Southampton, UK* and Washington, D.C.
Our attorneys are focused in primary disciplines featuring more than 45 specialized practice areas. Our clients welcome guidance in specific areas of law and value attorneys who can deliver specialized levels of legal service within those areas.
Our goal is to provide swift, expert and cost-effective legal support to our clients. With more than 125 years of experience practicing law across the globe, we have developed a practice designed to get your business done quickly and efficiently while assigning the right talent to give you the help you need.
We look forward to serving you with expert legal counsel, responsiveness, skill and professionalism.