Tripp Fitzner: The Middle Judicial Circuit’s new district attorney

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Tripp Fitzner says his desire to be a lawyer dates back to his high school debate years at Darlington School in Rome. He still remembers the moment his debate coach won him over and how that moment eventually translated into a career.

“I’ll never forget what the speaker said that day. He said, ‘If you’re an athlete, you can only run so fast, hit the ball so hard, swim so many laps, make so many shots. Athletics limits what you can do in a way. You should go out for debate because there’s no limit on how often or how well you can persuade people.’ That stuck with me. My path to becoming a lawyer wasn’t always clear and clean cut like some other attorneys’ career stories, but my involvement in debate absolutely helped shape what I wanted to become professionally.”

After Fitzner graduated from high school in 1992, he went to Georgia Southern and studied accounting in hopes of obtaining a “marketable degree.” Although he graduated with a BBA in 1998 as intended, he felt he wasn’t done with school just yet. Fitzner had taken the LSAT as a junior and did well on it, so when he tossed around in his head what should come next, it only seemed natural he go to law school. Fitzner went to his grandparents, who were helping him through school, and expressed to them he had a vision for his life after college—a vision that specifically meant becoming a lawyer. They were supportive in every sense of the word and encouraged him to begin applying to law schools across the country. He did just that and was accepted into the University of Dayton’s College of Law.

“I had lived in Georgia all my life. Other than vacations, I never saw much else other than this state. Going to school so far away would give me a chance to experience life in a new way. I also thought it would help my grades by being so far away from my friends and other distractions,” explained the Sylvania native.

Sure enough, with his acceptance into Dayton, Fitzner packed up his belongings and made the 11-hour drive, taking his well-established work ethic with him. Fitzner worked on the side as he completed his undergraduate degree, and that never changed as he worked toward his juris doctorate despite the high demands such an undertaking requires. He completed the requirements for that degree and took the bar exam. While he awaited his results, he interned for the Middle Judicial Circuit here under former a DA.

Ironically, after Fitzner graduated law school in 2000, he began working as an accountant. It would be a few months before he transitioned into the role of an attorney. Then after having served from 2001-2005 as the Middle Judicial Circuit’s first juvenile court prosecutor, from 2005 to Decmber 2008, Fitzner used his accounting skills as well as his law education to serve as district court administrator for the Eighth Judicial Circuit, which covers 27 counties in the state, stretching from Fitzgerald to Madison. In that role, Fitzner was the administrative arm of the superior courts, handling millions of dollars.

Still, Fitzner felt incomplete in a sense. He wanted to help make a difference in a bigger way. He wanted “the big show:” trying cases in a court room as a prosecutor and hopefully making people’s lives better by extension. It was in 2009 when current DA Hayward Altman took office that Fitzner would make his way back to Swainsboro. Altman offered to bring the young lawyer back on board due to his administrative experience and his desire to try cases. Fitzner accepted, and the years since becoming a part of the local community have helped carve out his life today, including his recent successful go at politics. 

When Fitzner accepted the position offered to him, he specifically submitted to becoming chief assistant district attorney and became responsible for child victim prosecution in Candler, Emanuel, Jefferson, Toombs, and Washington counties. He simultaneously took on the task of felony prosecution here and in Candler County, financial matters, grant writing, and developing the victim advocacy program for the DA’s office in this circuit. His professional endeavors here also include being elected by attorneys across the five-county circuit to serve four terms on the State Bar of Georgia’s Board of Governors, making policy decisions that governed the practice of law across the state. He has also worked with multiple law enforcement agencies within the circuit by training search and seizure procedures. Nationally speaking, Fitzner has been tapped by the National District Attorney’s Association to train attorneys across the country in trial advocacy.

All of these accomplishments are near and dear to Fitzner’s heart, but his family life sits atop all else. When he initially moved to Swainsboro in 2001, Fitzner joined friend and mentor Altman in attending First Baptist Church. Through that place of fellowship, he met the woman who would become his wife and matriarch of his family. They began dating in the summer of 2002, and he quickly knew Jennifer Price, now Fitzner, was the one with whom he wanted to spend his life. He proposed to her on Christmas of 2002, and the couple married June 7, 2003.

“Jennifer has been very supportive throughout my career. I can’t even describe how much she means to me and how much her support has helped me over the course of everything I’ve done, especially running for office. She kept me motivated throughout the campaign trail,” Fitzner said with admiration. “She wants me to be happy and encourages me to do something I love. Jennifer is always honest with me and holds me accountable. She’s a great friend to me and an even better mother to our children. To say she’s my rock would be an understatement.”

In addition to his wife, Fitzner has four sons. Aside from two grown sons, Zac (Penelope) of Alabama and Cliff of Ohio, Tripp and Jennifer have two younger sons from China, Song and Elic. Those four children and their new grandchild, Gabriel, son of Zac, are the lights of their lives.

It is that family precisely who helped sway him to run for office. Providing for them as a husband was important to him, but his background in protecting children, part of the responsibility of the DA, was important as well. His two young, innocent children reminded him of that.

“I started thinking about running for DA about two years ago. I knew Hayward probably wouldn’t run again because he had his time in and wanted to be with his wife. I prayed about it, then I talked to Jennifer and our friends to see what the response would be. I was overwhelmed with support. I didn’t start campaigning right away, but I did start laying the foundation back then.”

As he started taking those initial steps, Fitzner found himself in unfamiliar territory. He was nervous and had to overcome his introverted nature. He credits that kind of hard work, along with his solid professional reputation, for his win at the polls in June.

“I’ve been blessed to have a wife who kept me going when I didn’t want to sometimes, and I know I’m fortunate for the people across the circuit, especially here in Emanuel, who went to bat for me. I’m also really lucky that I had three really great mentors in Hayward; Tom Rawlings, who was the first full-time juvenile judge in this circuit; and Stan Smith, who was my direct supervisor when during the time I was administrator in the Eight Judicial Circuit. All three of these men and friends taught me in ways of their own. Hayward has given me so much advice over the years. Tom—I had no idea what I was doing in the beginning, and he was a patient man with a brilliant legal mind. He taught me a lot about procedures and helped me train on the job while Stan humanized the bench for me. I wouldn’t be where I am today without any of these folks, and I freely admit that.”

When he looks back, Fitzner is intrigued by one thing in particular: you can’t predict where your life is going to go. Where he started as an accountant certainly isn’t where he ended up as the incoming district attorney of a busy judicial circuit. However, in full transparency, what’s most striking to Fitzner is the future.

“I am so humbled to be the next DA here. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little nervous going in just because we’re living in unprecedented times with new challenges, especially when you think about what our office might have to face with budget cuts from the state and matters like that, but I’m ready. I’m mostly excited. I can’t wait to serve the citizens of the Middle Judicial Circuit, and I can’t wait to lead our office. Some of my goals are to foster an all-hands-on-deck culture, to be accessible, and most of all, make everyone proud. I thank you all once again, and I stand ready for January!”

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