When I started my legal career in 1986 the county utilized the “historic Cherokee County Courthouse” for the court’s business.
Because the courthouse was built in 1929, it contained only one courtroom and somehow had sufficient space to house the offices for two judges, the district attorney’s office, the probate court office, the clerk’s office, the tax commissioner’s office, the deed room as well as the county jail.
In addition to the beautiful Georgia marble courthouse, the courts utilized the “civil trial annex” which in reality was a dilapidated single-wide trailer with questionable plumbing located behind the courthouse.
A few years after the start of my practice the “civil trial annex” was upgraded to a palatial double-wide trailer.
As Cherokee County grew and changed so did its legal requirements. Fortunately in 1994, we were blessed with being able to conduct the people’s business in the Cherokee County Justice Center.
Now instead of one courtroom and a dilapidated double-wide, Cherokee County has a true legal hub containing at least 11 courtrooms, judge’s offices, the clerk’s offices, the Probate Court and the District Attorney’s Office.
The changes that Cherokee County has undergone extend far beyond the Cherokee Courthouse.
For example, as a youngster I attended church at the Canton First Baptist Church located in downtown Canton, and now, I sit as the city of Canton’s municipal judge and try cases in the very same sanctuary in which I attended church, was baptized and married.
Another perplexing and often confusing change I have witnessed is Academy Street in downtown Canton. Academy Street has been converted from a two-way road to a one-way road back to a two-way road.
I honestly still don’t know if it’s a one- or two-way street and by the time I learn which one it is, it will probably have changed again. In other words in my 51 years of life and 26 years at the practice of law, I have witnessed countless changes in our community.
Throughout these changes there have been a few notable exceptions within my world. Judge Frank C. Mills III, Judge C. J. Gober and District Attorney Garry Moss have served as the backbone of the Cherokee County legal community. These three great men have remained constants among a sea of change.
Soon after starting my practice in 1986 Garry Moss was elected district attorney for the Blue Ridge Judicial Circuit which served both Cherokee and Forsyth counties.
The district attorney serves as the community’s lawyer. His job includes the prosecution of all felony crimes that occur within the circuit.
Prior to being elected district attorney in 1988 Garry along with Wally Rogers served as the only two assistant district attorneys under Rafe Banks. Rafe, Garry, and Wally along with a sparse support staff prosecuted all felony arrests committed in two counties.
After Garry Moss was elected as district attorney the Blue Ridge Judicial Circuit was split leaving only Cherokee County. While the area of the circuit was reduced, the population during Garry’s 24 years as DA actually increased from 50,000 to around 220,000.
As you might expect, the county’s growth in population resulted in an exponential increase in crime. As a result, the district attorney’s office grew to meet that exponential increase in crime, and now employs 13 attorneys, investigators and appropriate support staff.
While taking responsibility for personally prosecuting major crimes, Garry has managed the District Attorney’s Office’s employees and budget.
This December marked the end of Garry’s distinguished career as the district attorney of Cherokee County. Garry decided to retire after his long and illustrious career carrying out justice and helping to ensure the safety of the residents of Cherokee County.
Although retiring, I’m beyond positive Garry will stay active in the Cherokee community and perhaps even legal practice.
After retiring, it has been reported that Garry may be utilizing his experience in persuading juries to now persuade sinners to Christ. I also have it on good authority that Garry may be in the market for a cowboy hat and boots to assist in his new passion for ranching.
It was once said that Garry Moss would only be satisfied as DA if everyone was on probation. I know that Garry will exhibit the same zeal he gave to his job every day in his new endeavors.
Judge C.J. Gober
Another great man who remained unchanging during Cherokee County’s transformation is Judge C. J. Gober. Judge Gober has served Cherokee County as the State Court judge since 1984.
The State Court of Cherokee County is a court of limited jurisdiction meaning that its functions include the prosecution of misdemeanor criminal violations, as well as the disposition of certain non-criminal (civil) cases like personal injury cases.
For the first 16 years as State Court judge, Judge Gober was the only State Court judge in Cherokee and Forsyth counties. While hearing traffic cases ranging from running a red light to a DUI and second degree vehicular homicide as well as civil cases, Judge Gober served as the circuit’s Juvenile Court judge and heard, at the request of Judge Mills and Judge Gault, Superior Court custody cases in his spare time.
Judge Gober is now assisted in his State Court duties by Judge Alan Jordan and Judge Dee Morris. Judge Gober after years of dealing with the serious issue of drunk driving in Cherokee County created the County’s first DUI Court.
The DUI court provides treatment and rehabilitation rather than just punishment. The DUI Court graduates multiple DUI offenders annually and ultimately saves countless DUI-related injuries and deaths as well as untold taxpayer dollars.
Judge Gober’s concept of DUI court is quite simple: work hard; maintain weekly contact with DUI court; punish slip-ups along the way in order to redirect offenders and essentially monitor offenders 24/7 for approximately 18 months.
After that time, offenders will have garnered enough skills, coping mechanisms, will-power and dedication to continue an alcohol free lifestyle without Judge Gober and his staff being involved on a daily basis.
The numbers don’t lie. Since its inception the DUI court has graduated 321 repeat DUI offenders and to date only 21 or so have had additional alcohol-related problems.
It is abundantly clear Judge Gober loves his family, loves the law, and loves to be in the woods on cold November mornings with a white tail buck in his scope.
Perhaps best stated by one of Judge Gober’s fellow judges: “Judge Gober loves his family, loves to hunt deer in November and loves to assure that justice is served in Cherokee County without regard to race, gender, or socio-economic standing, except in November!”
Judge Gober’s vision and dedication will be remembered and appreciated long after his retirement this December.
Judge Frank C. Mills III
Last but by no means least, Judge Frank C. Mills III will also be “hanging up his robe” this December.
Judge Mills has spent a significant amount, if not all of his legal career serving the residents of Cherokee and Forsyth counties as assistant district attorney, district attorney, and Superior Court judge.
It is reported that Judge Mills was among the youngest ever appointed by the governor to his position as district attorney and as Superior Court judge. Judge Mills was appointed in his position in January of 1981 at age 32.
In 1984 following the passing of Judge Richard Neville, Judge Mills assumed the position of chief judge of the Blue Ridge Judicial Circuit.
I had the honor of being sworn in by Judge Mills and have tried many cases before him in my career. During my 26 years I have found Judge Mills to be fair, generally even tempered, extremely intuitive, long suffering, endowed with an elephant-like memory, and he obviously possesses an unparalleled knowledge of the law.
I also learned that Judge Mills is blessed with bat-like hearing. Unfortunately, I learned this the hard way early in my career. I was appearing before Judge Mills on a non-jury day.
At some point during the day my client and I entered a packed courtroom. Judge Mills was hearing a motion or temporary hearing in a divorce case and appeared to have drifted off to sleep.
From the very back of the courtroom, I commented in a very hushed tone that the judge was asleep.
Judge Mills immediately looked up and directed a laser beam stare in my direction. I finished whatever matter I had that day without incident and Judge Mills never spoke of my disrespect for the court.
I convinced myself over time that the judge didn’t really have super human hearing and the stare directed at me that day was a result of my Billy Hasty-like fashion sense.
However, several days after Judge Mills decided to retire we were talking and, for the first time in maybe 10 years after that fateful day, Judge Mills told me that he never sleeps on the bench.
Not only has Judge Mills devoted approximately 38 years to the local legal community, he is and has been a devoted husband, loving father and a consummate Boy Scout.
Judge Mills has devoted weekends, nights and even vacations to leading young men in scouting.
Judge Mills’ work with the Boy Scouts of America was recognized by the Boy Scouts with the Silver Beaver Award for service. Judge Mills has also been honored over the years with the Justice Benham Community Service Award in 1999, the Whitney M. Young Award for distinguished service to low income youth in 2006, Outstanding Young Man of America for Cherokee County by the Jaycees, and Cherokee County’s Volunteer of the Year by FOCUS in 2004.
Judge Mills’ positive impact in our community will be felt and enjoyed for many, many years after he decides to finally put up his feet for a long deserved rest. I can only guess that rest will follow another decade or two fulfilling Judge Mills’ true passion in Scouting.
These three gentlemen have touched so many lives in their collective careers, and they have remained constants in Cherokee County when so many things were changing and transforming.
I whole-heartedly believe that these great men will continue to prosecute, preach, punish, lead, inspire and praise until the final breaths leave their bodies.
The individuals will be missed, and the impact of these three great servants of man will be remembered and felt for years to come.
Thomas A. Roach, Jr. is a partner in the law firm of Roach, Caudill, & Gunn, located in Canton. Tom has long served as general counsel to the Cherokee County School Board and the Cherokee County Water and Sewerage Authority, and sits as municipal judge for the city of Canton.