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Judge spoke the honest truth — even if he was a Gator

POSTED: November 20, 2011 12:30 a.m.

Judge J.D. Smith is hanging up his judicial robe at the end of the year. He has been serving on the Georgia Court of Appeals since 1993. For a decade before that, he served as a superior court judge in the Northeastern Circuit, which includes Hall and Dawson counties.

Earlier this month, I was invited to attend Judge Smith's retirement ceremony, which was being held a little ahead of his actual retirement because of the upcoming court calendar, followed by the holiday season.

Quite frankly, I had never attended a judicial retirement, much less one for a distinguished state-level jurist. There is something a bit funereal about these things (there really is, but I was also looking for a good excuse to use the word "funereal"). One of the speakers actually alluded to the scene in "Tom Sawyer" where Tom fakes his death to attend his own funeral.

Folks said nice things about Judge Smith and you would expect nothing less. Poultry czar Abit Massey, who spoke at Judge Smith's inaugural in 1993, spoke at his retirement, as well. I am planning to retire in 2025 and have already booked Abit as the opening act. For a man who has never retired, Abit makes a fine retirement speech.

J.D. Smith grew up in Gainesville, Ga., but for some reason he decided to go to college in Gainesville, Fla. People do things that are sometimes hard to understand or explain.

He did come back to the University of Georgia to earn his law degree. However, he is a Florida Gator, through and through.

It was appropriate that he was selected to be the presiding judge in a case involving gators ... real, live, eat-your-arm-off gators.

A man named Winston Wright wanted to operate a gator farm at his spread in South Georgia. He was eventually allowed to buy some alligators from a brood stock in Florida.

There were some local alligators from this state also living on his farm and had been there for nearly 20 years. The DNR required him to keep the Georgia and Florida gators separated. In 1991, the Florida gators went through the fence and began cohabitating with the Georgia gators, and that's when the DNR told him he could not sell all 650 alligators to a firm that buys alligators.

The DNR seized his alligators and took them to the island of misfit alligators, or wherever you take alligators that have been bred across state lines.

In the appeal, the court sided with DNR.

Judge Smith, in the ruling, added a footnote that demonstrated a profound sense of humor that is sometimes lacking in today's judicial process.

Smith wrote, "Several times in this opinion, we refer to ‘Georgia alligators.' We do so reluctantly and solely for the sake of convenience and brevity. We recognize that for literally millions of Georgians and Floridians, the term "Georgia Gators," or any approximation thereof, is an inherently offensive oxymoron. We apologize for any pain or distress caused by this unfamiliar and unfortunate juxtaposition."

Future generations of law students will hold the name of J.D. Smith in awe and reverence because he wrote the truth like we have never heard it before.

It belongs in the footnote hall of fame.

Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the Sunday Life page and on gainesvilletimes.com/harris.



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