Of all of the admirable traits Jackson County Deputy County Counselor Ashley N. Garrett has shown throughout her career, perseverance has to be atop the list.
In her five years with the Jackson County Counselor’s office, Garrett has tried three civil jury trials as first chair, tried several as second chair, successfully handled numerous litigation cases as primary attorney, and more en route to a promotion to deputy county counselor.
Not bad for someone who said that, as an undergrad at Clark Atlanta University, she was so unnerved by public speaking that she couldn’t do so without breaking down and crying. At one point, she signed up in a theater production called “Black Voices” so she could dance — and then she wound up getting a speaking role.
“I’m not being dramatic to say I would cry every single time,” Garrett said. “Not like I’d walk off and start crying. It was like I couldn’t even finish a sentence. To go from that to being what I’m the best at makes me proud.”
These days, Garrett said, the favorite part of her job is anytime she’s talking in court. And people have noticed: An avalanche of judges, opposing counsel, bar associations and co-workers have praised her work in and out of the courtroom, with many complimenting how well Garrett puts people at ease.
One opposing counsel who lost a jury trial to her wrote in her nomination: “I was impressed with her litigation skill, her ability to communicate with the witnesses and jury, and her knowledge and competence with the legal issues.”
Another nominator noted that she “always strives to treat others with fairness and decency,” and a third wrote that Garrett’s clients “knew she was listening to them and never made them feel like lesser human beings.”
That’s not to say it’s always been easy. Consider Garrett’s first jury trial, when she first went through voir dire.
“Mine couldn’t have been more than 15 minutes,” Garrett said. “I didn’t see any hands, so I stopped, and my team leader was like, ‘What in the world was that?’” Garrett laughed when recalling what she called a good but tough experience, saying, “There was a big difference in the attorney who handled the first trial and the one that handled the second trial.”
Or when she led a long jury trial in late February 2019 while being eight months pregnant and anxiously waiting for her doctor to call at one point. Eventually, after eight long days, the jury came back with a judgment of less than 10 percent of what the plaintiffs had sought, along with no punitive damages.
“I thought there was no way I’m going to get through this, but you just have to,” Garrett said. “Honestly, everything ended up being perfectly fine. I said my goal here was to make the jury like me to lessen the blow, so I said, ‘My job is done.’ That’s amazing, just to get through all of that while eight months pregnant,” she said. “After that, I felt I could do anything.”
That drive extends outside the courtroom as well. Garrett mentors less experienced attorneys and has long been involved in serving the community, something she said she picked up from watching her parents’ regular involvement in different organizations to help people.
“I really do believe in being connected to the community,” Garrett said. “It helps you look outside yourself and understand people. It’s completely separate from work, but being exposed to what people go through helped me understand what some of my clients were going through.”