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Private service planned for former Newton County judge, business leader Greeley Ellis
Greeley Ellis
Greeley Ellis is shown in a 1990 ad urging his election as the Republican nominee for governor. - photo by File Photo

COVINGTON, Ga. — A private service is planned for former Superior Court Judge Greeley Ellis, who died Friday, Dec. 30, at age 90.

Ellis, a longtime Covington resident and civic and business leader, served as a Superior Court judge in the Alcovy Judicial Circuit for 11 years from 1978 to 1989. 

The former judge became famous regionally when he presided over one of the first RICO cases in Georgia in 1983 in Monroe in a case involving members of a group known as the “Dixie Mafia."

The Adel native graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York. He served in the Army in Germany and attended Mercer Law School and Emory Law School where he graduated in 1959.  

Ellis practiced law in Atlanta before moving to Covington in 1960 to start his own practice.  

He was a director of Newton Federal Bank for more than 56 years and served as board chairman for 16 years.  He served as Covington city attorney in the 1960s and as a member of the Newton County School Board from 1967 to 1970.  

He also served as president of the Newton County Chamber of Commerce, and organized the Newton County Industrial Development Authority in 1965 where he served as chairman for 14 years. 

Ellis was president of the Kiwanis Club in 1965 and a founding member of the Newton County Foundation. In 2015, he was awarded the Distinguished Graduate Award from the West Point Society of Atlanta.

He was a private attorney from 1958 until Gov. George Busbee appointed him to the judgeship in May 1978. He won election later that year and reelection in 1982 and 1986. 

Ellis presided over the trials of Winder resident Harold Smith Chancey, Charles I. Cagle of Demorest and Audie Jordan of Social Circle who were members of a group known as the “Dixie Mafia.” They faced charges of violating the Georgia Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) law in a trial that lasted over six weeks, according to The Walton Tribune newspaper.

Sources close to the case estimated half a million dollars was spent on defense attorneys. Ellis sentenced Chancey, Jordan and Cagle to the maximum 20-year prison sentences for racketeering in June 1983, and ordered each to pay a $25,000 fine.

In 1989, Ellis resigned his judgeship to run for the 1990 Republican nomination for governor but lost to future congressman and U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson. 

Superior Court Judge John Ott, who retired Dec. 31 after 32 years on the bench, was appointed in 1990 to replace Ellis.

Ellis is survived by his wife, Temple; sons, George Hunter Ellis of Augusta, Andrew Berdan Ellis of Leicester, North Carolina, and Paul Wilson Ellis of Flowery Branch; a sister, Jean Wright; and five grandchildren.

A private burial ceremony will be held in the Covington City Cemetery, according to an obituary from J.C. Harwell and Son Funeral Home.  

Contributions in memory of Ellis may be made to the Shepherd Center, 2020 Peachtree Road, NE, Atlanta, GA 30309, where Ellis recuperated following a car wreck in 1975.