On weekends and spare moments here and there, retiring Juvenile Court Judge Cliff Jolliff chips away at packing up 24 years of mementos and paperwork that fill his office.
“That has been a little daunting, but that really brings it home that it is actually going to come to pass soon,” said Jolliff, who hopes to be out by New Year’s Eve.
A picture on the table near his desk will be one of the last things to take home before the lights go out: a framed photo of his wife of 21 years, Elaine Gerke.
“I can’t take that picture until the end,” he said.
Jolliff was the first appointed full-time juvenile court judge for Hall and Dawson Counties in 1992 after working as a part-time judge in Hall beginning in 1990.
In his career, Jolliff’s greatest accomplishment to his longtime colleague Mary Carden was the creation of Family Treatment Court.
“I think he faced what we all do in the juvenile court system: a very underfunded system, where you have to be creative in coming up with ways to deal with what you don’t have the money to do,” Carden said.
His temperament, Carden said, always remained even-headed and stable.
“It doesn’t mean he’s a pushover, or lets anybody not get what they’re due, but he’s just very steady,” she said.
In his last few days on the bench, Jolliff heard juvenile delinquency cases, with Judge Alison Toller in the back row of the courtroom. She and Bo Weber Jr. were appointed in October to fill Jolliff’s vacancy and the newly created third Juvenile Court judge position.
“Judge Jolliff’s career as Juvenile Court judge was marked with an unsurpassed work ethic and by unquestioned care for children,” said Northeastern Judicial Circuit District Attorney Lee Darragh. “In delinquency cases, one may not have always agreed with every ruling or disposition, but one could never doubt his motivation to try to help a juvenile succeed.”
While working through 2« decades of memories, one struck Jolliff while combing through a filing cabinet. He pulled out notes and staffing sheets related to retired Superior Court Judge John Girardeau, when officials began the Hall County Drug Court in 2001.
“Seeing some of those names, that just kind of flashed me back to those times,” Jolliff said. “In some ways, it seems like much longer than 13 years ago, but that was incredibly challenging and stimulating work.”
Down the hall from Jolliff’s office, clerk Marie Poole stacked books filled with photographs. Having worked with Jolliff for 20 years, every Christmas party with toys exchanged is cataloged as she flips through the plastic pages.
“We have a lot of laughs, and then we donate the toys,” she said.
Two decades of memories — parties, retirements and get-togethers — are special to Poole, who keeps everything organized and labeled.
“It’s just not going to be the same place,” she said. “I’m going to miss him.”
Jolliff said he hopes the accountability courts can continue to help put people’s lives back on the right track.
“I would like to see us nurture those existing programs, because to some degree, they are still reliant on grants to where they can become something this community just embraces as the way we’re going to do business,” he said.
Jolliff said he would miss Family Treatment Court, created in 2006 to help parents battle substance abuse. The court, he said, is the greatest chance to break the cycle of foster care and help reunite families.
“You really, after a while, develop a little bit of a rapport and know that these are just people like anybody else, and they’ve had a lot of things happen to them that some people don’t experience,” Jolliff said.
The end of the year will not be the last time for Jolliff in a courtroom. He said he plans to substitute for surrounding circuits as well as serve as a resource along with other retired judges around the state.
“Sometimes it’s just being somebody that a new judge can pick up the phone and call,” he said.
The transition to the retired judge life, Carden said, removes some of the urgency and some of the around-the-clock worries.
“Suddenly, there’s none of that immediacy,” she said. “Suddenly, there’s nobody calling you or you have to worry about somebody calling you.”
What’s next for Jolliff with a little more time on his hands? Some learning, some farming and some more work at home.
Jolliff said he was interested in some of the continuing education classes available at Brenau University, particularly a seven-week class on neuroscience.
“I’m really interested in that only because of my work in Drug Court and the effects of drugs on the brain and behavior and how the brain responds and the brain’s ability to recover,” he said. “So I thought that would be kind of a first dash into my continuing effort to do some learning.”
When not tending to the job in Juvenile Court, Jolliff and his wife would visit a farm in southern Banks County, a 119-acre area that allows them to recharge their batteries and grow fruits and vegetables.
“There’s always chores to do there, and I’m looking forward to being able to do those during the week instead of having to cram them in on the weekend, which we currently do,” he said. “
My wife calls that tractor therapy.”
After 24 years in Juvenile Court, he’ll be a little less stressed and hoping to help out more at the homestead.
“Maybe some grocery shopping, maybe some meal prep. Maybe when she comes home helping her destress, because she as a therapist has done her share of destressing me for many years,” he said.