Please tell us a little about your background. Where did you grow up? What’s your educational background?
I am a native of southwest Georgia. I grew up in a farming family in Sale City, Mitchell County, Georgia (population 325). Both my parents grew up there and both sets of my grandparents lived there. My wife Dee also grew up in a farming family in Mitchell County. When she and I graduated from UGA, we returned to nearby Albany, where we have lived since 1986. I practiced law in Albany and was later the Dougherty County Juvenile Court judge (from 1995 to 1999) and a Dougherty County Superior Court judge (from 1999 to 2018). Dee has taught middle school in Albany for 33 years. We are the parents of three young adults.
I am a Double Dawg. I received my Bachelor of Arts (majoring in Political Science) cum laude, from the University of Georgia 1983. I was a member of Phi Beta Kappa and Phi Kappa Phi honors societies. In 1986, I received my Juris Doctor, cum laude, from the University of Georgia School of Law.
How did your previous jobs prepare you to serve on the Georgia Court of Appeals?
I was a trial lawyer for 13 years and tried numerous civil and felony criminal jury trials in Superior and State Courts across Georgia, as well as in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Georgia. I argued appeals in the Supreme Court of Georgia, the Court of Appeals of Georgia and the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. I was a trial judge in juvenile and superior court for 23 years. I believe my experience in the trial courts has helped me as an appellate judge because I have first-hand knowledge of how cases develop in a courtroom, as well as the practical challenges facing trial lawyers and trial judges.
I served twice as a member of the Judicial Council of Georgia (2007-2009; 2016-2018). Having served as the Administrative Judge for the Second Judicial Administrative District (27 counties of southwest Georgia), President of the Council of Superior Court Judges of Georgia (2008-2009), and the Chairman of the Council of Accountability Court Judges of Georgia (2017-2018), I had the opportunity to see the overall administrative structure of the trial court statewide. I understand the challenges faced by the trial courts when looking at how laws are applied and how cases are processed across the state in urban, suburban and rural circuits.
What motivated you to study the law?
Growing up on a livestock farm, I originally considered going to veterinary school. However, my lack of natural ability in advanced mathematics, combined with a few college chemistry and physics requirements, caused me to evaluate where my natural abilities should take me. This led me to the social sciences path, and then toward law schools. I had never met a lawyer until I did an internship with a court as part of my undergraduate studies at UGA, so I did not grow up dreaming of law school.
What are your passions when you are off the bench?
I have spent a great deal of my time in the last 17 years working on developing models for mental health court programs and doing continuing education training for judges and treatment court teams. In 2002, I founded the Dougherty Superior Court Mental Health/Substance Abuse treatment court programs which was one of the early felony mental health court programs nationally. This program has served as a national Learning Site for mental health courts since 2006. I have had the great fortune to help develop protocols and processes in Georgia and nationally for these programs. I have also done a lot of work on the issues of mental competency, and persons in the criminal justice system with co-occurring substance use and mental health disorders. I have been on the teaching faculty of the National Judicial College in Reno, Nevada since 2003, and have been a senior faculty member for the National Drug Court Institute for many years. I have been able to travel to most of the lower 48 states doing continuing education presentations and helping jurisdictions develop programming to deal with persons in the court system struggling with behavioral health and substance use disorders.
I have been going to Sanford Stadium since I was a young child. I have been a UGA football season ticket holder since 1986 and I have spent a lot of quality time with my children traveling to the ball games, both in Athens and other parts of the country. I was able to spend a wonderful day on January 1, 2018 with all of my children and son-in-law at the Rose Parade and the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. That was truly a “bucket list” day for me.
Who has influenced your career?
The late Dr. Susette Talarico at UGA, and Judge Herbert Phipps
As I’ve said, I did not grow up with the idea of becoming a lawyer. My first major course in the UGA Political Science Department was Introduction to Criminal Justice with Dr. Talarico, who was a driving force in developing the criminal justice program at UGA. She was a great teacher and was truly engaged with her students and former students. I took every course she taught. She also supervised my internship and my research project. She convinced me I should go to law school. After I graduated from law school, she would occasionally call on me to discuss her research from a practicing lawyer’s perspective. Once I started the mental health court program, she encouraged me to write and help me get published for the first time. In 2007, shortly before she lost a lengthy battle to breast cancer, she invited me to come to Athens and present at UGA to criminal justice graduate students. That was the last time I saw her. I was truly honored to be asked by the Criminal Justice Department to present the tenth annual Talarico Lecture at UGA earlier this year. I presented on the subject matter of “Next Steps for Persons in the Criminal Justice System with Mental Health Issues.” See, http://gradynewsource.uga.edu/blog/2019/04/09/half-of-all-inmates-are-mentally-ill-so-why-are-they-in-jail/ and https://spia.uga.edu/news-events/signature-events/susette-m-talarico-lecture
I have also been greatly influenced by Judge Herbert Phipps. As the newest lawyer in town in the summer of 1986, I was “nominated” to be the Secretary of the Dougherty Circuit Bar Association. Albany attorney Herbert Phipps was the President. From that time, he really started working with me and influencing my legal career. I followed him as the President of the Dougherty Bar. A few years later, he was appointed as the Dougherty Juvenile Court Judge. Judge Phipps appointed me to serve as the part-time solicitor in that court. I served in that capacity (in addition to my private law practice) from 1989 to 1995. I tried hundreds of cases in front of him. In 1995, Governor Miller appointed Judge Phipps to the Dougherty Superior Court bench and I succeeded him as the Dougherty Juvenile Court Judge. When he went to the Court of Appeals in 1999, I was appointed to succeed him on the Superior Court bench, where I served until I was appointed by Governor Deal to the Court of Appeals in 2018. Judge Phipps has the finest judicial temperament of any judge I have ever known. He has been a great friend to me and his family has been extremely kind to my family for over thirty years. I was honored that he was the introductory speaker when I was sworn in as a Superior Court judge in 1999 and as a Court of Appeals judge in 2018.