Superior Court Chief Judge Walter J. Matthews has been described as a pillar of the Floyd County Courthouse, a good man with a great sense of humor and a strong sense of justice.
Matthews begins his retirement today after spending 28 years on the bench.
He said he had been practicing law when the seat came open, which is when he decided he wanted to give the judgeship a try. “Fortunately, it turned out I enjoyed the work,” Matthews said. “I’ve known judges who have gone back to practicing law after a few years.”
Matthews was appointed to his seat in 1988 by former Gov. Joe Frank Harris to fill the unexpired term of then Judge John A. Frazier Jr. He was made chief judge in 2003 when Chief Judge Robert G. Walther retired.
“Rome’s a great place,” Matthews said about his time on the bench. “It’s been an all-around good experience.”
The judge said he has enjoyed dealing with the lawyers, the cases, the clerks and all of the people he has worked with in the courthouse over the years.
“Here in Floyd County, we have a pretty good situation with people called to jury duty,” Matthews said.
The county doesn’t have the problems that other communities have in trying to get people to serve, he continued. People see jury duty as an obligation of citizenship and perform that duty diligently, he added.
People who have worked with him and for him said he has served his community well.
“I have the utmost respect for him,” said Superior Court Clerk Barbara Penson. “He’s been great to work with and we will miss him. He’s sure been a pillar of this courthouse for a long time.”
District Attorney Leigh Patterson started in the DA’s office as an intern the same year Matthews was appointed to his seat.
“It feels funny that he’s retiring after all these years,” she said. “We wish him the best.”
Court Administrator Phil Hart said Matthews has been instrumental in developing many of the court programs, such as divorcing parents classes and the rehabilitation program MATRIX.
According to Hart’s limited research, Matthews is the longest serving Floyd County Superior Court judge in history.
“I’ve enjoyed my past 26 years working with and for him,” Hart concluded. “We’re going to miss his leadership.”
Matthews doesn’t plan to take it easy in his retirement. He’ll serve as a senior judge, presiding over cases around the state when local judges are absent or have to recuse themselves. He also plans to do some private mediation work.
Most civil cases have to go through mediators before they make it to a jury trial, Matthews said.
He and his wife, Cheryl Matthews, will also spend some time traveling.
Gov. Nathan Deal will appoint a judge to serve the rest of Matthews’ term, which ends in 2018.
Martha Jacobs, chief assistant district attorney, Billy Sparks, attorney at law, and Mark Webb, a partner at Brinson, Askew, Berry, Seigler, Richardson & Davis, have made the short list to replace Matthews.
Matthews’ advice to his successor is to “just to be themselves and do the job the way they feel most comfortable.”
He said all three candidates are decent and intelligent people who would do the job well.