GLANCING OVER at Cobb’s Superior Court judges who selected him as the county’s new chief magistrate and who turned out Thursday to see him sworn into office, Brendan Murphy smiled.
“Everyone always says at these events that you’re the best bench in the state of Georgia. And now finally we know it’s true,” he said.
Judge Steve Schuster gave the opening remarks in Cobb Superior Court’s ceremonial courtroom, which was packed with family, friends and dignitaries, and, as usual, had the crowd laughing.
“Judge (Reuben) Green gets very nervous when I speak, and today he approached me in the back hall, and he did this test with me where he said start at a 100 and count backwards by seven. So I go OK, ‘100, 93, 86, 79, 72.’ He said ‘OK you’re clear. You’re not senile yet. I said thank you because those are the only numbers I had written on my wrist,” Schuster said.
Schuster went on to say Green was kind enough to send him a note reminding him that Murphy’s children would be there and to keep his remarks appropriate.
“And I said don’t worry about me. You need to worry about Judge (Kimberly Childs).”
Schuster said he, Green and Judge Rob Flournoy were fortunate enough to have Murphy in their courtrooms as a prosecutor.
“And we were perceived by the bar as better judges because of Brendan’s demeanor,” Schuster said. “He was always respectful with everybody. He was able to relate in a professional manner. And that reflected well on us because the people were left with a taste of his professionalism.”
Schuster spoke of Murphy’s humility.
“You know, I was walking in today and I looked at the magistrate’s parking lot, which was normally populated with Land Rovers and Porsches, and I see that Honda Odyssey,” Schuster said. “And that reminded me of his humble roots. But he also reminded me that it’s a great campaign car.”
The judge shared a story of when Murphy was prosecuting in his courtroom earlier on.
“He kind of heard about me ... being me, and I’m sitting during a plea one day, and I’m up there speaking, and I look over … and he’s going (draws his hand across his throat), and I thought to myself, ‘Wait, I don’t understand that. So after court I called him back, and I said ‘Brendan, you cannot tell me to cut off the defendant’s head.’ He says to me, ‘No, I was telling you to be quiet and not ruin this plea.’”
Schuster later learned the same tactic did not work with Flournoy but did with Green.
As Schuster recited the names of all the elected officials in the room, he said, “Usually Judge (Ann) Harris would walk in about now if this were a judge’s meeting so she would come flying in with her day binder.”
And as if on cue, Harris entered the courtroom, prompting the audience to roar with laughter as she gave them a puzzled look.
Judge Childs, who also gave remarks, said Schuster advised her to keep them at 10 minutes.
“Judge Schuster, if you feel like I’m going on too long and you need a comfort break, feel free to just slip out that side door over there,” Childs said before turning to the Versailles-sized portrait of Schuster hanging on the courtroom wall.
“I mean, your portrait is right there, and it is so lifelike, it’s like a silent version of Judge Schuster,” she said.
Murphy also teased Schuster about the portrait.
“I especially appreciate Judge Schuster getting me the phone number for the beautiful artist ... that did these paintings, but I told him I thought it was a little premature. Day 1 was a little premature,” Murphy said.
As for his minivan, “You need a vehicle big enough to carry that very modestly sized portrait,” Murphy said.
MURPHY GAVE SHOUTOUTS to many, including Cobb and Marietta school district attorney Clem Doyle, explaining how he began his legal career with Doyle’s firm, Gregory, Doyle, Calhoun & Rogers.
“For better or worse, Clem’s the one that brought me to Marietta. So if you’re mad at anybody, be mad at Clem. Clem taught me what it means to represent a client. He taught me what it means to work with elected officials like Ms. Grimes,” Murphy said, in reference to former Marietta school board member Jeriene Bonner Grimes, president of the Cobb NAACP. “He taught me the business side of the law. He taught me about our community, the Gem City, its history and introduced me to its leaders. He showed me firsthand the duties lawyers have to serve the community, and I assure you, Clem, that Justice Hines’ life’s work of courtesy, dignity and respect is already being carried out by these judges in the courtroom, and as long as the people of Cobb County return me to the bench, it will continue as well.”
The reference, of course, was to Doyle’s father-in-law, the late great Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harris Hines.
Murphy also told tales on himself, sharing how his first non jury trial, an ordinance case in magistrate court, didn’t end the way he wanted. The case involved either a dog bite or a dog that was off its leash.
“The evidence going up — it was terrible. The dog, the teeth were showing. The dog was growling. Its name was Spike or Killer or Vicious. It was something terrible. But then I made the young lawyer’s mistake of asking one more question. I asked the question I didn’t know the answer to. And so I asked the victim, ‘Well, ma’am, what kind of dog was this dog that did this awful thing to you? And she said, ‘Sir, he was a 3½-pound Pomeranian.’ I just sat down. ‘The state rests.’”
GBI Director Vic Reynolds also received a shoutout for hiring Murphy when he was district attorney.
“It took Vic a while to bring me on board. Some of my friends in the solicitor’s office may remember that,” Murphy said. “I went over to the DA’s office so many times people were starting to think I was on pretrial diversion.
“Vic taught me when you mess up, you fess up. You learn from it, you get better, you move on. That’s what we’re going to do at Magistrate Court. Do the right thing. Work hard. Don’t worry about the politics. Do the right thing and everything else will take care of itself.”
He also praised his predecessor, Joyette Holmes, recently tapped by Gov. Brian Kemp as Cobb’s new district attorney.
“I’m thankful that you advocated, you went out on a limb and advocated that this office be a nonpartisan office in line with all the other judges and many magistrates across this state. This ensures that the court will remain free of any hint of politics. The only thing that matters in magistrate court is the law and the facts. So I thank you for that,” he said.
His appointment as chief magistrate was the greatest honor of his career, he said.
“Today’s a very special day, but it’s not a birthday party or a lifetime achievement award or a wedding, though weddings are a free service provided by magistrate court every day at 6 p.m. So if you’re out there needing a nudge, consider this the nudge. We’ll see you at 6 o’clock,” Murphy said.
As Holmes would say, magistrate court is the people’s court, Murphy said.
“Overall, our job is to make sure that all people in Cobb County are welcomed warmly, treated fairly and helped efficiently. So let’s get started. But let’s go have some cake first.”