Little shares experiences as a longtime state judge

Published 10:50 am Wednesday, April 3, 2024

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WEST POINT — A retired judge talked about her journey through the legal profession at last week’s meeting of the West Point Rotary Club. Jeannette Little retired as a state court judge in 2020 after a career that spanned more than four decades. Little is a native of LaGrange and a graduate of LaGrange High and LaGrange College, where she majored in English. She taught school for a time before going on to Mercer University Law School. She had a brother living in Macon at the time and that made for an easier transition to relocating to Middle Georgia.

She likened her experience to that of salesman Gregor Samsa in Franz Kafka’s 1915 novel Metamorphosis. The character struggled mightily for some time to support his family. It left him with a sense of alienation from those he had cared for for a long time. He felt like he’d become a giant insect and found it hard to deal with that perception. He would later discover that the family members he had worked so hard to support could have supported themselves if they had truly tried to.

Little graduated at the top of her class in 1980. She wanted to return to Troup County but jobs – even for law school graduates – were hard to find at that time.

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A local scandal opened the door for her. A small claims court judge lost her job when she ran off with a trusty from the local jail. Little applied for the open position and was hired. This began a career in the judiciary. Two years later she became a magistrate court judge and in 1986 Governor Joe Frank Harris appointed her to state court, a position she would hold until her retirement four years ago.

As a state court judge in Troup County Little started a work release program for inmates. It was for low-level offenders and provided them a means to help their families. A portion of their earnings would go to the court and a portion to their families. “It has been a good program,” Little said. “We have 32 people in the program now.”

There are multiple courts to deal with certain kinds of cases. “We have felony arrest court, drug court, mental health court, family treatment court to name a few,” Little said.

In one year alone, DUI court provided an economic impact in Troup County of more than $170,000.

An individual who has been through DUI court can stay out of jail as long as they agree to be heavily monitored and comply with a treatment program. They are tested frequently and must check in with their monitor every day.

The judge, the prosecutor, and the public defender are all on the state court team, which is funded by the State of Georgia.

Little said she felt there had been a change for the better with the installation of a home check program. “This needs to be done to see if they are doing all right,” she said.

Little kept a letter she once received from one of the participants in the program. It’s entitled 44 Springs. “I don’t think we are here by chance. We are here for a reason,” the individual wrote. “Each one of us needs to stop and enjoy things like the coming of spring.”

The letter went on to make the point that they were on the wrong path in life. “It was the court system that grabbed me and because of that I might live to see my 45th spring,” the letter reads.

Little said the man turned a corner and went on to lead a productive life after that.

Little read a passage from state law that says that judges are not supposed to be in politics in any way. “I am so tired of hearing the term Trump judge or Biden judge,” she said. “Judges are not supposed to be involved in politics in any way.”

Rotary Club member Larry Nix, a long-time attorney in the local area, commended Little on having been an excellent judge for a long period of time and kidded with her that she must have come across some interesting characters over the years. She smiled and nodded to that.

They both agreed that Frank Thornton had been a most colorful lawyer in his day and James Weldon had been such a character before that.

Little is proud of her son, who has been with CNN for more than 20 years. He has shot lots of videos and edited it for a long time.

She’s retired from the state court system but can be asked to hear cases in any state court in Georgia. That’s something that allowed her to keep her sharp legal mind in clear focus.

“I want everyone to know it was always a pleasure to appear before Judge Little,” Nix said in leading a round of applause from Rotary Club members.