The announcement that Blue Ridge Judicial Circuit Superior Court Chief Judge Frank Mills was dropping out of the race for the seat on the bench he had held for most of my adult life came out of left field.
Add to that the news that District Attorney Garry Moss is not seeking re-election, State Court Chief Judge C.J. Gober is retiring from the bench and Solicitor General David Cannon is resigning to run for the slot on Superior Court and suddenly the landscape in the judicial branch of our county government is all new.
This election will truly bring a changing of the guard at the Cherokee County Justice Center.
The old guard really doesn’t seem that old to me, but none-the-less three of our most notable court officials are going to be retiring from the courthouse scene next January.
When I first came to work at the Cherokee Tribune in the mid-1980s, Garry Moss was one of two assistant district attorneys working in Cherokee County.
At that time the Blue Ridge Circuit also included Forsyth County and Rafe Banks from over in Cumming was district attorney.
Moss along with Wally Rogers had an office in the white marble courthouse in downtown Canton which at that time was the main court facility for the county. There was also a mobile unit out back where court was held sometimes.
In those days when I wanted to know what was going on in court, I would stroll on over to Garry and Wally’s office to find out. Back then we had about 80,000 or so residents in Cherokee County, and still felt like a small, backwater community.
I would plop down and refuse to leave until I got the information out of them that I wanted, and although Garry might say he was reticent, I was still usually able to somehow find out what I needed to know.
One of the first murder trials I ever covered saw the district attorney’s office prosecuting a man on murder charges of killing his wife and her sister.
I had actually been out to the scene at the time the murder had occurred and wrote the story for the newspaper. The wife was trying to leave her husband and he came and shot her and her sister.
He took his children away, but left the baby of his sister-in-law wounded and lying in the dead woman’s arms.
It was several days before they were discovered them but the baby was still alive.
The man was found guilty in a trial in the old courtroom that seemed like something out of a movie.
Garry was actually hired in 1980 by Frank Mills when he was district attorney. Frank was, I think, the youngest district attorney in the state. He then became one of the youngest, if not the youngest, judges to take the bench in Georgia.
When I first moved back to Cherokee County after college, Frank was DA and married to one of my high school friends, Mandy Mills.
They used to have some wonderful oyster roast parties at their home, but after Frank became judge I suppose he put his party days behind him.
Their son was the same age as my daughter and I would often see the family at school events.
Mills replaced popular Canton Judge Marion Pope, who went on to sit on the Georgia Court of Appeals.
Judge Mills built a reputation for fairness, thoughtfulness and sometimes for thinking outside the box.
C.J. Goober was another friend and his children were in school and friends with my son. I am not sure how long he was on the bench as a State Court judge, but I know it was at least two decades.
So now two chief judges and both the solicitor and the district attorney are leaving after a long career of service to our community.
I talked with Garry this week about old times. He was elected in 1988 as Blue Ridge District Attorney and was the first Republican to take office in that job in rememberable time. Only one other Republican had been elected anywhere in the state as district attorney since Reconstruction.
He told me that he believes it is time for young people to take over and bring fresh, bold ideas into the jobs so long held by the same people.
“Part of knowing when to get in is knowing when to get out,” he said.
This titans of the legal community in Cherokee County have decided it is time to retire and we will miss them.
In their going, the three leave a legacy of justice and some big shoes to fill.
Rebecca Johnston is managing editor of The Cherokee Tribune.