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Retiring judge offers advice to successor
'Temper justice with empathy'
Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court Judge Junius P. Warren is shown Tuesday in his courtroom at the Martinsville Municipal Building. He plans to retire April 1. (Bulletin photo by Mike Wray)
Wednesday, February 6, 2013
By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin Staff Writer
Junius P. Warren has a message for whoever succeeds him as a Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court judge when he retires April 1:
“Temper justice with empathy,” said Warren, who has served for nearly 30 years in the 21st Judicial District, which includes the city of Martinsville and Henry and Patrick counties.
Six people have expressed an interest in the position, including Henry County Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert (Bob) Bushnell; Assistant Patrick County Commonwealth’s Attorney Marcus Brinks; Assistant Henry County Commonwealth’s Attorney Wayne Withers, Patrick County attorney Alan Black; and attorneys Timothy Halpin and Kimberly Belongia, according to Janine Jacob, president of the Martinsville-Henry County Bar Association.
Jacob said candidates were interviewed Monday and rated as qualified, highly qualified or unqualified. The tally was forwarded to state legislators Tuesday morning, and the General Assembly will appoint Warren’s successor.
Although he had thought about retiring and discussed it for about 18 months, Warren decided to step aside because “the ‘chief justice’ demanded I retire.”
The “chief justice” in this case is his wife, Becky Warren, he said, adding that the couple have three grandchildren in South Carolina to visit when his retirement is effective.
“I had mixed feelings” about retiring, said Warren. “I probably will miss it.”
He is on a voluntary recall list and will be called to serve again when needed, Warren said.
He declined to speculate on which candidate will be appointed to the post.
But whoever it is will hold “a very important job,” partly because the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court judge deals with family-oriented issues and “will have more contact with the community,” residents and families than judges in other courts, Warren said. “It’s real important to do a good job and to do what’s right.”
Some of the qualities needed for the job are legal knowledge, patience and “some degree of a kind heart,” Warren said.
He estimated that crimes make up only about 20 percent of the caseload. That is “down significantly” to about half what it was when he began on the bench 29 years ago, Warren said. Aside from the declining population of the last few years, he cannot explain the trend.
However, Warren said the number of crimes in General District Courts also are down, and Martinsville Police Chief Mike Rogers also said his department’s numbers are down, too, Warren said.
The remaining 80 percent of the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court cases are civil matters such as child support, custody and visitation issues; foster care; child abuse and neglect; family protection orders; “and a myriad of other” cases, Warren said. The civil docket (schedule of cases) “is a killer.”
For instance, on Tuesday, the docket included 32 cases, according to Warren, who said “that’s probably about average.”
He began hearing cases around 8:30 a.m. in the Martinsville Municipal Building, where he presides three days each week, Warren said. He hears cases in Patrick and Henry counties the remaining two days.
Warren, who will have served in the job for 29 years when he retires, said, “I’ve been here so long, I’m probably dealing with third generations” of families.
His longevity has provided him with some degree of familiarity in certain cases. While it is important to “know the situation and to know” the back story, Warren said that he has “never used that against anyone.”
Whether fishing on a boat in Murrells Inlet or in his office, Warren said local corrections/law enforcement officers find him and ask him to stay or suspend sentences for inmates who are pregnant, are ill or who have serious health conditions.
That prevents the locality from paying the costs of treatment, and Warren said it has saved “millions of dollars.”
Warren was named to fill the post in 1983 by Henry County Circuit Court Judge Frank Richardson, he said. He added that he also was endorsed by the Martinsville-Henry County Bar Association and later appointed by the General Assembly.
“When I first started, I did all three jurisdictions by myself,” Warren said of Henry and Patrick counties and Martinsville.
Later, a second Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court judge was added to the circuit. Judge Susan Deatherage fills that post now, and hears many cases in Henry County.
Also when Warren began, city cases were heard in “an office just like this, and with no bailiff,” he said of his office in Martinsville.
He heard cases involving adults in the bottom floor General District Courtroom of the former Henry County Courthouse, he said.
“It was standing room only” on those days, Warren said, and noted that the docket generally included 50 cases each day of “civil, criminal, custody ... we heard everything” in the same room.
Now, cases generally are heard in “really nice courtrooms,” and bailiffs are present “all the time,” Warren said. “Back in the old days, things were really different.”
Also, in the days before the Division of Child Support Enforcement (which collects and processes child support), those payments were collected in the clerk’s office, Warren said.
It was not uncommon to collect $10,000 to $15,000 in cash by the end of the work week, Warren said. “My clerks would walk it to the bank on Friday afternoons” to make a deposit.
At the time, when a person was sentenced to jail, Warren said he walked them down to the police department and told them to wait for an officer to meet them there and pick them up. Amazingly, they waited.
“I never had one get away,” he said, chuckling at the memory.