2014-02-05 / Front Page

STATE COURT JUDGE JERRY DANIEL DIES

By Diana Royal

Burke County lost a good friend last week.

State Court Judge Jerry M. Daniel died Thursday, Jan. 30, at his residence. He was 70 years old.

More than 600 came to pay their respects to Judge Daniel, including all the Superior Court judges who attended the funeral services on Sunday draped in their judicial robes. A number of members of the Augusta Judicial Circuit were among family and friends, as were local and state law enforcement officers and participants in Judge Daniel’s various accountability courts.

Betty White, long-time friend and ex-wife of Judge Daniel, said one young man in particular was especially distraught over the judge’s passing. She explained that he, too, was a participant in the DUI/Drug Court program, and expressed his debt of gratitude to the late judge.

“He just looked at me and asked, ‘How am I going to graduate (from the program) without Judge Daniel being there?’”

This is a sentiment shared throughout the court community: What will we do without him?

Judge Daniel, a lifelong Burke County resident and a graduate of Georgia Southern University and the Walter F. George School of Law at Mercer University, began his law practice in Waynesboro in the 1960s, but it was the turn of the century that brought about the career for which he is likely to be most remembered: State Court Judge of Burke County.

His tenure began with his election in 2000, and his passion for supporting those afflicted with addiction and victims of domestic violence became apparent. By January 2006, Judge Daniel put together a staff of volunteers, and operating with zero funding, started the very first accountability court in the CSRA, Burke County’s DUI/ Drug Court. The first program saw approximately a dozen participants, but according to Mike Popplewell, president of CSRA Probation Services, it has grown to include approximately 120 in three different courts. Popplewell explained that once Judge Daniel realized the success of the DUI/Drug Court, he wanted to do more for the community and implemented two additional programs: the Mental Health and Family Violence Courts.

“He really knew the law and had a heart for people, especially those with addiction issues,” Popplewell said, adding that Judge Daniel was never one to take credit. “He always said (of the courts’ success), ‘ I owe it to my team,’ but it was him. It all started with him.”

Judge Daniel’s unorthodox approach in the courtroom proved successful; he never shied away from his past or the battles he’d once had himself, oftentimes sharing his personal experiences and struggles with court participants. Over the course of the years, he stated in many interviews with The True Citizen, “I believe in these folks because I’ve been there, and I know they can overcome these issues. Sometimes all it takes is a second chance.” To date, Burke County’s DUI/ Drug Court has produced well over 100 graduates.

White said Judge Daniel was most proud of the success of these courts. “It was his passion,” she said. “ God helped him turn his life around, and his major achievement was the giving of himself to help others. I hope whoever is appointed in his place will continue to carry out his dream and build upon it. For him, it was one of the greatest parts of his life.”

THE NEXT JUDGE

The governor will appoint a successor to serve until Burke County voters elect their next State Court judge. Officials are not yet sure if the Special Election will be held in conjunction with the May 20 Primary or the Nov. 4 General Election, according to Barbara Hammett, Executive Director of the Burke County Board of Elections. In either case, qualifying will begin March 3. Candidates must be attorneys who live in Burke County and have practiced law for at least five years.

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