Michelle Barclay: Tell us a little bit about your path to becoming a lawyer and a judge.
Judge Ragsdale: My reason for becoming an attorney had to do with my father who was often called for jury duty and his talking about jury duty around the dining table. It sounded fascinating. He was impressed often with the attorneys and their arguments. And so I thought, well, I’d like to do that. I graduated from Georgia Southern College, and I started teaching at Coffee High School in Douglas, Georgia. Then, after a while, I decided that I really wanted to be a lawyer. So, I left teaching and went to law school. I started working with a local law firm in Barrow County the summer between my first and second year and continued thereafter law school. When a judicial appointment for the juvenile court opened up, Bill Hicks became the judge, and he asked me if I wanted to be the associate, and I said, “certainly.” I’m very happy to be the associate judge as I don’t deal with the administrative part of the job.
MB: That sounds like a pretty great job.
Judge Ragsdale: It is. Judge Hicks is a great guy to work with and for. When I was in law school, I very much wanted to work with families. Most of my private practice was spent in either juvenile court or in a domestic relations practice. Becoming a juvenile court judge fit well with my interests and passions.
MB: Let’s talk about COVID-19. How did it change your day-to-day work and life?
Judge Ragsdale: The day things shut down, I was in Athens attending the Technology Student Association which has a gathering every year in Athens. My brother teaches in that field and we were visiting with some of his kids and watching their technology contests as part of this gathering. We went out to dinner that night and as we finished up, everyone at the table got a text message saying please take your children home first thing in the morning. It was a strange feeling of –wait, what is happening in the world? When I went to work the next day, we were told that we would be shutting down the courthouse the following week except for essential services (which includes my work). I kept coming to work every day but everything was so different, so empty. As the emergency orders came out, we made adjustments. Thank goodness for the Judicial Council for the leadership that we have had throughout the Georgia judicial world and making this very quick, but necessary, shift to using things like Zoom and WebEx. These programs allow us to continue our work. It took some adjustment. I will never hold my first zoom hearing up as an example of how it should be. It’s definitely fraught with all kinds of issues. But you know, once you’re faced with having to do something differently, you can rise to that level. I can say that in the Piedmont circuit, we’ve risen to that level and are very comfortable using these new tools now. I’m looking forward to continuing to use these tools for certain cases even when we get back to a more normal state. It will save some attorneys from having to travel and it saves time. One surprise benefit of our new use of technology is that, at least in the juvenile court world, you often learn a lot more about the parents in the case when they’re more relaxed in their own element. I find parents in juvenile court cases more relaxed when using technology instead of being in person in the courthouse.
MB: You find the parents more relaxed when they are using technology?
Judge Ragsdale: They are. It was surprising to me, but they are used to talking on a phone. I’ve found that the parents in cases before me are used to using their phones when they’re normally at home or out and about. I have had to ask parents to pull over and stop driving to continue participating, but I’m glad they are calling in.
MB: That’s helpful insight. Let’s talk about your service as a member on the newly-created Ad Hoc Committee on Unified Administrative Services. What, in your opinion, would be a good result that comes out of this committee?
Judge Ragsdale: I am excited to be on the committee. I have learned a lot about what goes into running a judicial system. Part of our mission is to look for efficiencies and we are doing that. I think one win will be improving IT security to lessen any potential for hacking. I also think getting the word out more as to what various councils do for the judicial branch and the importance of having these services would be a win.
MB: Final question, what is the best part of your job?
Judge Ragsdale: The best part of my job is that I truly get to see people make positive changes in their lives. I see people who work really hard and some people just blossom.