One day after being sworn in last year, Superior Court Judge Clint Bearden already was taking pleas and handling arraignments in Dawson County.
Bearden was no stranger to this forum, but it comes with a whole new vista at the top of the bench.
“Once you get into the routine of doing the work that you need to do that day, everything just fell into place,” he said.
Bearden reflected on his first year and some of the difficult decisions a judge is tasked with, choices that sometimes may not be popular.
Just weeks before, Bearden had to put some drug court participants behind bars because of failed drug screens or other violations.
“It’s a pretty hard thing to know that people that have kids and families at home, that I’ve got to put you in jail over Christmas because you’ve had a violation of this program and that’s what our rules require. But that’s what we have to do. You treat everybody the same,” he said.
Considering himself a compassionate person, Bearden said the judgeship forces him to weigh his emotion and sometimes check it at the door.
Bearden was appointed Dec. 21 by Gov. Nathan Deal as the fifth Superior Court judge in the Northeastern Judicial Circuit that covers Hall and Dawson counties. He currently occupies retired Judge John Girardeau’s office, replete with the former judge’s Western landscape artwork on the walls.
Some of the most difficult cases Bearden dealt with in his first year involve domestic divorce cases.
“I’ve got to award somebody custody of this child, and that’s going to leave somebody with less time. Those are difficult decisions, and I think they are always going to be difficult decisions, no matter if you have one year of experience or 30 years of experience,” he said.
One of the greatest pieces of advice he received came from Superior Court Judge Kathlene Gosselin by way of Girardeau: write down your thoughts.
The essay process gives him a chance to better articulate his reasoning to the parties in the case, as well as review if he should reconsider an argument before making a decision.
As of earlier this month, Bearden and his staff are tentatively set for their own courtroom and offices on the second floor in early April.
As Juvenile Court and Probate Court moved to the courthouse annex, Magistrate Court will move to the third floor to open up courtrooms for Bearden and State Court Judge Larry Baldwin II.
“If we go past July 1, then we’re going to be scrambling to try to rearrange courtroom time, because we’ve set all of our calendars from July 1 out to be in our courtroom on the second floor,” Bearden said.
His calendar for 2019 includes two murder cases in addition to five or six serious felony cases.
Looking back over the past year, Bearden called it “one of the best years” of his professional life, saying the transition to the bench had been aided by his fellow judges lending a helping hand.
“It’s a job that every day I have a great appreciation for the opportunity that I’m given. It’s very humbling in that way, because you recognize, good or bad, the decisions that you make are going impact people that are in front of you and also impact their families, their friends, people in the community. It’s something that I try to never lose sight and have respect for that position and the role that I have to play in that,” Bearden said.