Effusive with his praise of others, new Glynn County Chief Magistrate Judge Wallace Harrell took his oath of office late Friday afternoon at the county courthouse, before a gathering of local leaders in the legal and law enforcement communities, and his friends and family.
Harrell comes to the job with one of the most impressive qualifications and recognitions of anyone in Georgia law. U.S. District Court Judge Lisa Godbey Wood, designated to speak at the ceremony, opened by saying it was no wonder the sun was shining on Glynn County that afternoon.
Wood said the magistrate court is the people’s court, a venue for the resolution of disputes for people with few other options. She said a judge of that court has to come to it with wisdom and expertise.
Wood said of Harrell that he was a lawyer’s lawyer, and will become a judge’s judge. Harrell was a name partner in the second-oldest operating law firm in the state, and while accomplishing much with the law, dedicated himself to his family and raised not only his biological sons, but his stepson, a step-granddaughter and a step-great granddaughter.
He plays golf like he practices law, Wood said, in that he makes it look easy because he’s so good. She said she tried her first case 30 years ago with him, and that his success is thanks to his decency, honesty and being honorable, which — as a result of becoming a judge — he’s honorable both officially and unofficially.
Glynn County Chief Superior Court Judge Stephen Scarlett — who said he’s known Harrell since he sported long blond hair — remarked that his father and Harrell were good friends.
Harrell, noting Wood has introduced him a number of times at other occasions, said, “If you ever want to feel really good, have Judge Wood introduce you.”
As he was preparing for an interview with the county superior court judges for the job, Harrell said Glynn County Clerk of Court Ron Adams advised him to at least pretend to be young. Harrell said he couldn’t get away with dying his hair or wearing distressed jeans, so he decided he’d go into it as spry as he could manage. He said that didn’t last long when Judge Anthony Harrison greeted him with a question of who was older — him or Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
For reference, Harrell received his law degree from Mercer and earned his law license in 1956. Ginsburg received her degree from Columbia University in 1959.
Harrell said to those gathered, regarding the judges he’s known, interviewed with and who were sitting to his right, “The judiciary, my friends, is in good shape in Glynn County.”
Harrell went on to wax lyrical about many of the local leaders who were in attendance, including District Attorney Jackie Johnson, Sheriff Neal Jump, Adams, the magistrate court clerks and the magistrate judges.
He said the reason the county needs so many magistrate judges is that they’re on call 24 hours a day for warrants and other matters that cannot wait. Harrell said magistrate courts handle lawsuits involving less than $15,000, violations of ordinances, evictions, applications for civilian arrest warrants regarding allegations like assault and stalking, and magistrate judges hold court at the county jail four times a week for initial appearances.
He closed by saying he was thankful for his extended family, and especially for his wife, Mary.