Interview with Rich Reaves

Conducted by Judge James Bodiford

Edited and Condensed by Michelle Barclay

JB:  I remember my first phone call with you in 1985 when I was a baby judge (appointed Cobb County Chief Magistrate). I want to ask you about your long service to our state’s judicial branch. Could you walk me through a bit of your career? I know you’ve spent 34 years serving GA’s judicial branch, but about 40 total years in judicial education. How did that start?

RR: My career started in Tennessee where I was newly married and I sought a job within the University of Tennessee Law School that was focused on providing education to Tennessee’s judicial system. This decision meant my wife and I could stay closer together, and she could keep her employment and continue to seek her graduate school education. But it also meant that I never established the private law practice that I had planned to do in the mountains of eastern Tennessee.  This career choice was luck, a last minute turn in the road.

JB: How did you get to Georgia?

RR: I applied for a job in Florida related to judicial education and stayed there for 4.5 years. I left because I did not like the direction of the program building relationships was discouraged between the judicial branch and any of the Florida law schools or colleges and universities, CJE product design and delivery kept internal to the State judiciary was permitted, outside speakers with National Judicial College experience only were allowed. I liked the more enriched and rational program that I saw in Georgia.  It was an opportunity to engage with a program that has a tie into every law school, as well as college and university pharmacy schools, journalism schools and wherever the need may be met for intellectual capital or expertise.  So, when the Georgia position was posted, I applied and eventually after an interview process with Dean Ralph Beard, Judge Willis Hunt, Judge Andy Whelan and Court Administrator Bob Doss, was offered the job.  Florida CJE, by the way, has long since altered its preferences and today operates a comprehensive and indeed exemplary system of judicial branch education. 

JB: What has been the biggest change in the GA judicial system during your career?

RR:  I would say the willingness and interest on the part of the judges to be technologically savvy.  The move to electronic publications and on-line legal research has been transformative to both justice and to wider society.

JB:  Can you tell our readers your best story or about your best day?

RR:  There are so many “best” days.  I remember when Emmett Arnold (at that time the only State Court Judge of Clayton County) and Andy Whelan called to tell me that the ICJE was appropriated enough money to conduct two conferences for state court judges per year—up until that time there was just one conference a year, and it was combined with the solicitor generals, which presented conflict of interest concerns. We wanted separation, but we also wanted the State Court Judges to be on the same footing as Superior, Juvenile and Probate Court Judges. That was a good day. 

Another good day was when we met in the early 90’s to kick off the Magistrate mentoring program.   I had wanted to institutionalize this mentoring program because of a strong belief that classroom training can be too general, that it does not address the individual learning needs, and may or may not meet the urgent concerns of judges needing answers. Also, judges come on board during all times year-round and deserve appropriate support as soon as they take office. Pairing up “experience” with “newbies” could break through some of the weaknesses in classroom-based learning. The Magistrate Court Judges were the only group willing to try this new approach. Judges Joe Iannazzone, Dave Wood, Rita Spaulding, and Connie Holt took some risk to be innovative, which is sometimes tough in political jobs. The program started out as voluntary and moved to mandatory. The kick-off was a very good day for me.  Now the Probate Court Judges are doing their mentoring program. The Juvenile Court Judges and State Court Judges are considering it. It enables a new judge to have educational needs be front and center and addressed quickly by the mentor or by referral to the right person.

And another good day was when we were given the opportunity to take over the Domestic Violence Benchbook (  The Superior Court Judges were under pressure to better address domestic violence cases. Judge Robert Adamson headed up a bench book project, which was managed very well.  Eventually the task for keeping the bench book up to date came to us. Over the years, with funding from the GCFV, this tool has been maintained as an electronic publication – – – the ICJE’s first one. This benchbook gets several thousand hits each year and serves judges, attorneys and the public.  We also work to keep up the Municipal Court Benchbook, the Juvenile Court Clerks procedural manual, the Municipal Court Clerks procedural manual, the Magistrate Court Clerks  procedural manual, the Probate Court Judges Handbook and their Benchbook, and we provide support to the Magistrate Court Judges Benchbook.  These types of electronic tools should be referenced and integrated into future education, so that there is a symbiotic relationship between those electronic publication or reference tools and the learning experience. There is still more work to be done on the integration of these tools into education, but all of these changes were good days.

Do you want to know about my worst day or days?  It was in 2010, 2011 and 2012, when the GA Senate’s version of the state’s budget zeroed out the ICJE. I always worried about our staff. Fortunately, the Georgia House of Representatives did not go along with those recommendations.

JB:  As we wind down this interview, tell me your thoughts about the judicial branch? Do you feel hopeful about the future?

RR:  I am biased, but I feel that we have an exemplary and a strong judiciary.  I think the instances that we have had of judges who have done bad things is small.  Any time you have 1500 people as part of an institution, you are going to have some bad apples in the bunch.  But overall, I see so much dedication, so many individual judges give all to the day to day improvement of how their courts work and how to better serve their community. It is an honor to be affiliated with these people and I have so many inspiring stories: watching Kent Lawrence with his first DUI drug court or talking to Steve Goss about his mental health court.  The way the judiciary has transformed over the years because of the individual efforts of conscientious judges to work to do their best.  James Bodiford is an example of a judge willing to step up and deal with a number of complicated and high profile cases with lots of emotion on all sides and still see to it that everyone is rendered a fair opportunity to tell his or her story.  I think we have a wonderful judiciary.  Again, I have been embedded in it for so long, yet I think I have seen so many judges go out of their way to do exceptional work, do more than was called for toward the goal of improving justice. I will leave in awe and admiration of these individual judges in Georgia.

JB: What do you think you’re going to miss the most as you think about leaving this job?

RR: The thing that I have enjoyed most about this work is the architectural type of structuring of new and different ways to try and teach to meet the greatest needs to the greatest number of targeted constituencies. I have enjoyed the creative opportunity, and not to have to do the same thing over and over. I have always had support to try new things, to bring in controversial speakers, and to address upsetting subjects. I think this freedom helps advance the practice of judging and the purposes, the mission and the service that the judicial system is supposed to give to our citizenry. I will miss that challenge of being appropriately creative.

JB:  You will be missed, Rich, and we thank you for all your service.

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