Judge Lori B. Duff attended Duke University and then went on to Emory Law School, graduating in 1994. She formerly served as a Judge Pro Tempore with the DeKalb County Juvenile Court and the Associate Judge in the City of Social Circle and currently serves as the Presiding Judge in the City of Loganville. Judge Duff is also a trained mediator, and is a registered neutral with the State of Georgia, with specialty certifications in Domestic Relations and Domestic Violence. She is also the 10th District Representative for the Council of Municipal Court Judges. Judge Duff is the author of the popular “Legalese” column in the Monroe Local and has a blog that can be found in the Loganville – Grayson Patch, the Monroe Local, and on her own website, http://www.loriduffwrites.com. She has also written three books, and is currently working on a fourth.
When you went to law school, did you know what you wanted to do out of law school?
“I didn’t know. I think I knew I wanted to be in a courtroom but beyond that I had no idea.”
At what point did you want to become a judge and what do you enjoy most about it now?
“I think I assumed that was just the natural trajectory – that you were a lawyer and then you become a judge. It was just the next step. As for my favorite part: so when you’re a lawyer, what you do all day is you ask someone else to do something. When you’re a judge you get to say, “Here’s what we’re going to do.” As a judge, you may not be completely confident in your decision, but at least right, wrong, or indifferent, a decision is made.”
What does your schedule look like for the courtroom versus your full-time practice?
“Well I’m mostly a judge on Thursdays. We have court every Thursday, and then first appearance hearings whenever they occur. They don’t generally take very long, and we can do them virtually too. So Monday-Wednesday and Friday is my regular job. Saturdays and Sundays I try to be a regular person.”
So on Saturdays and Sundays what do you like to do as a regular person?
“Well I have teenagers, 17 and soon to be 15, and they are very active. My son plays the Oboe and is in a number of different ensembles and we run all over the country for that, and my daughter plays the guitar and is in bands and things as well. For me, I write. I have 3 books and I am working on a 4th. I’m also starting to do some stand-up comedy. I kind of started backwards with that. Usually you start out doing open mic and mall things, but I started in front of a few hundred and I’m working my way back down. Every two years I go to a writing workshop of about 300 people, and about 12 people get up and do standup there, so this past year, I decided to do it, and it was so much fun. Then once I saw an ad in the Daily Report email asking “Do you think you’re Atlanta’s funniest lawyer?” The books that I have are humorous and I thought, yeah I do actually. Although it’s kind of a low bar because lawyers aren’t really known for being funny.”
Where did writing come in along the path of your legal career?
“I always wrote. If you would’ve asked me when I was twelve what I wanted to be when I grew up I would have said “a writer.” I took creative writing classes in college too, but I never considered that as an actual option. My breakout moment was really after I ran for Probate Court judge in Walton County. I lost that election pretty badly. Sometime after that I wanted something to do that I had complete control over, to take my mind off of the loss, so I started cleaning my bathroom. It was a DEEP cleaning – you could have licked the floor. My husband, wanting to be helpful, saw the newly cleaned bathroom and decided that it needed new lightbulbs to highlight how clean it was. He ended up having to take down the fixture, at which point all of this black dust starts falling down…and then he doesn’t put the light fixture back up for months and months. So then I started blogging about all of things that he was doing, which were not putting the light fixture back up. I called the blog “The Light Over My Sink.” You would have been surprised at all the things that were supposedly more important than putting the lights back up. Eventually a local online paper put out a call for local bloggers, and they were looking for that kind of content. People ended up really liking the blog, and that’s how I kind of got started. “
Who has influenced you the most in either your practice or as a judge?
“You learn a lot from the judges that you first practice in front of. In the juvenile court, Judge Desiree Sutton Peagler, who is still there, had a huge influence over me. I just loved her demeanor. She never lost her cool, but she could talk people into a corner. As far as lawyers go, my law partner of thirteen years. Don M. Jones, passed away a few weeks ago and he was the most amazing person. He had the hugest heart, and he never let anyone walk away from his office because they couldn’t afford him. The very last case he worked on was pro-bono. He was very humble and quiet, and never bragged about some of the things he did that would be worth bragging about, like his work trying to integrate the courthouse during the Civil Rights Movement down in Birmingham. Over those thirteen years I only heard maybe two hours’ worth of stories. He also never retired. The last conversation I had with him was about an appellate brief, while he was in the hospital strapped up to monitors. That’s just the kind of person he was, that’s what mattered to him. He was not going to die without justice being served. That kind of passion was so inspirational.”
Last question. Of your three books, which is your favorite?
“They’re my babies, you can’t ask me to choose!”
Okay, then what is your favorite thing about each?
“Well my first one was special because it was my first. I was able to say that I got through it unscathed.
The second one I find myself referring to the most, because it has two stories I end up telling the most. One, where an armadillo tunneled into my bedroom one night, and another where I shattered my wrist playing a sport that was designed for people with limited mobility, because I’m that clumsy. The third one is unique because it has won the most awards.”