Judge Herbert Phipps has made a difference

I arrived early so I had a seat in the courtroom, the same courtroom where I was sworn in as an attorney over 20 years ago and the same one where I took the oath of office to serve Dougherty County as district attorney in 1997. I was in a courtroom that rarely filled up because of its size, other than on criminal arraignments; however, on this day, the occasion of honoring Judge Herbert E. Phipps Jr. and the unveiling of his portrait to hang in the courthouse, once again the ceremonial courtroom of the Dougherty County Courthouse was standing-room-only capacity. It was a fitting tribute and there were members of the community, as well as fellow members of his court traveling from Atlanta to be with Judge Phipps for this special occasion.

Judge Phipps returned to Albany to practice law after having graduated from Morehouse College and Case Western Reserve School of Law at a time when there were very few African-American attorneys and civil rights were not what they are today. Judge Phipps practiced in that area and opened many doors for others to have better opportunities. He was the first African-American judge appointed to any bench in Dougherty County and served first as a magistrate and associate State Court judge, then as a Juvenile Court judge and later Superior Court judge, before finally being appointed to the Court of Appeals, where he now serves.

I had the honor of trying many cases in front of Judge Phipps, and I can tell you that there is no one who is more fair or committed to the concept of public service than Herbert E. Phipps Jr. In making his remarks after the unveiling of the portrait, he utilized lyrics from a song to make a point: "What a difference a day makes." His point was that the days that he first began practicing law here in south Georgia in the 1960s are quite different from today, and there is no doubt he is right. He is right, in large part, because of his actions, and the song "What a Difference a Day Makes" could very easily now be named "What a Difference Herbert E. Phipps Makes." We are all better off for his presence, and we are appropriately and rightly honoring him at this time.



EDITOR'S NOTE: Kenneth Hodges III is a former Dougherty district attorney and is a partner in the law firm Ashe Rafuse & Hill LLP.