From spending time in West Africa to spending time on the bench, Judge J. Bryant Durham has seen a lot and done even more.
The Floyd County Superior Court judge will begin his fourth full term in office on Jan. 1, after getting 7,459 votes in an uncontested, nonpartisan election Tuesday.
Durham was appointed to the bench in 2003 by then-Gov. Sonny Perdue, to finish the unexpired term of Judge Robert Walther.
“Gov. Perdue made a wise decision,” Durham said jokingly as he looked back on his career last week.
His first crack at becoming a Superior Court judge ended in a second-place finish to Judge Larry Salmon in a 1988 run-off election. But he was elected to his first full four-year term without challenge in 2004.
Durham said some of his favorite cases are adoptions — because everyone walks out a winner. He said he probably sees about 10 of those a year.
“Every job has its pluses and minuses,” Durham added.
Family violence restraining order petitions are generally his least favorites, because he’s seeing either a seriously bad situation or people stretching the truth just to get back at someone.
“I’ve been known to call Thursday mornings the Jerry Springer Show,” Durham said about the slot earmarked for family violence hearings.
He said he enjoys most of the other work, especially trials, because there is always something new that is going to walk in the door. Laughing again, Durham said that he enjoys trials because he doesn’t have to do as much work as the attorneys.
“I want to be fair to everybody and I want to enforce the laws as they are written,” Durham said about his mindset when presiding over a case.
“When I ran back in 1988, my slogan was ‘fair, but firm,’” he added.
He said he hopes that his leadership on the bench teaches people how to take responsibility for themselves.
“One thing I find is that people, a lot of times, just don’t want to take responsibility for themselves,” he said.
Much of Durham’s youth was spent in Nigeria, where his parents were missionaries. He moved to Rome when he turned 15 and became a boarding student, graduating with honors in 1967.
From there, he went to Mercer University and graduated with two degrees, in history and political science. He earned his law degree at the University of Georgia in 1974.
The judge also has military experience, he said, becoming a commissioned officer in the United States Army Reserves in 1973. He was promoted to the rank of captain one day before he completed his reserve service in 1981.
His legal service began as an associate and later partner at Covington, Kilpatrick, Storey and Durham. From there, he went on to be a partner in Jones, Byington, Durham and Payne.
In 2001, he moved to Cox, Byington, Corwin, Niedrach and Durham and stayed there until 2003.
Durham also served as Rome’s municipal judge from 1998 to 2003 and the Floyd County Probate Court administrator from 1990 to 2003.
The judge is married to Regina Durham and is stepfather to Kayla Bower, Joey Lange and Mitchell Lange. Last week his plans for the future were focused on his upcoming four years on the bench.
“I’m sure that I will at least do this next term,” he said. “I’ll probably look at retirement after that.”
Not that he envisions his retirement as vegetative.
Durham said he would like to be a senior judge who sits in on trials when superior court judges have to recuse themselves or are otherwise unavailable.
And visiting Australia is on his bucket list. “I’d like to travel some. I grew up traveling and I guess I’d like to go out traveling,” Durham said.