The Editorial Board of the Verdict extends our condolences to the family and friends of Judge Stephen Goss.Judge Goss has been described as a lawyer of great integrity, compassion and trustworthiness, and was highly respected and well liked by his colleagues, friends and the Georgia legal community. When his death was announced the morning of August 24, many gathered around his family with support and offered statements of condolences. Goss was survived by his wife, Dee Goss, their two daughters, Collins and Clark, and their son, Clint.
“He was a soft spoken, unassuming man,” Court of Appeals Chief Judge Christopher J. McFadden said in a statement. “The more one got to know him, the more one grew to like and respect him. He was a judge to whom other judges turned for guidance, a nationally recognized expert on accountability courts. On a personal level, I had looked forward to a long and deepening friendship.”
Judge Goss, 60, was found in the woods surrounding his Albany home and pronounced dead from a gun shot wound upon arrival. Dougherty County Coroner Michael Fowler determined his death was a suicide.
Upon learning of his death, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp provided his condolences and support on social media.
“A native Georgian, trusted counsel, and a man of integrity, Court of Appeals Judge Stephen Goss will be sorely missed by countless people across our state and nation,” Kemp wrote. “The Kemp family asks God to give comfort to his loved ones, friends, and colleagues in this difficult time.”
Goss, born and raised in Georgia, grew up on his family farm in Sale City, Georgia. He attended the University of Georgia, graduating cum laude with a degree in Political Science. He continued his education at the University of Georgia for law school, earning his J.D. with honors, also. Prior to his appointment as a judge, he worked as an attorney in Albany, becoming partner of Watson, Spence, Lowe and Chambless as well as Cannon, Meyer von Bremen and Goss. He served as the president of the Dougherty Circuit Bar Association and as a life fellow of the Lawyers Foundation of Georgia. Goss was appointed to the Dougherty Circuit Juvenile Court where he served four years. He was then appointed to the Superior Court of the Dougherty Judicial Circuit and, after five reelections, served as a Superior Court judge for nineteen years.
In 2018, Goss was appointed to the Georgia Court of Appeals by then acting Governor Nathan Deal. He was up for reelection in May 2020.
Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold D. Melton spoke about Judge Goss, stating “Judge Goss was a man who brought so much dignity and compassion to the delivery of justice all across this great state,” he said. “He was a national figure, known for his work on mental health and substance abuse treatment programs. His legacy is as great as our sense of loss. Our court and this state’s judiciary express our profound condolences to the Goss family.”
In 2002, Judge Goss founded the Dougherty Superior Court Mental Health and Substance Abuse Treatment programs. It was one of the first of its kind in the country, assisting those with felony probation or pending felony charges and focusing on those with substance abuse or diagnosed mental illness. Since 2006, the Dougherty Superior Court program has served as one of four Learning Sites for mental health courts as designated by United States Bureau of Justice Assistance and the Council of State Governments.
The week following his death, the entirety of the judges and staff of the Court of Appeals gathered for one hour to discuss Goss and were provided a counselor on site.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time Georgia has lost a judge to suicide. Goss’ death was preceded last year by Judge William G. Johnson, a judge in the Griffin Municipal Court, who fatally shot himself. In early 2019, Former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates discussed the death by suicide of her father, Judge John Kelley Quillian. Yates has made it her mission to speak out regarding her father’s death in hopes to end the stigma associated with mental health issues and treatment.
“Depression is a very treatable illness,” she stated. “If you have kidney disease or a broken arm, you are not expected to tough it out. If you are suffering from a mental illness, why should you be expected to suffer in silence?”
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention found that in 2014, lawyers ranked fourth in suicide deaths by profession in proportion to suicides in all other occupations. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), lawyers are 3.6 times more likely to suffer from depression than non-lawyers. The APA identifies depression as the most likely trigger for suicide.
The Georgia State Bar Association offers members access to six confidential sessions with a counselor free of charge through the Lawyer Assistance Program. To take advantage of this service, Georgia bar members should call 800-327-9631 or visit https://www.gabar.org/wellness/mental/LAP.cfm. If you are in crisis, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255 and crisis counselors are available by messaging the Crisis Text Line at 741741. ●