Brown wraps up 18 years as judge

mstucka@macon.comDecember 30, 2013 

S. Phillip Brown wrapped up a lot of cases in his 18 years on the bench, but suddenly there isn’t enough time.

The office walls of Bibb County’s chief Superior Court judge were barren Monday, and boxes, bubble wrap and a plethora of random electrical cords were scattered around the room. On a table was a foot-tall stack of documents, most of it outside a manila folder.

“I’ve got more to do than I can do tomorrow. That’s what I’ve been doing in the last month, is packing two days into one,” said Brown, who was sworn in by then-Gov. Zell Miller on Dec. 21, 1995.

One bookshelf held a conspicuous set of binders, fully three feet thick. That’s from a single civil court case, a dispute between doctors and The Medical Center of Central Georgia. Brown inherited the case from another judge, Martha Christian, who got it from another judge, Tommy Day Wilcox. There’s more than meets the eye.

“That’s not the depositions and everything,” Brown said. “The depositions would cover this table.”

Bibb County Superior Court records list 657 different entries in the case, which will go on to a fourth judge.

Brown said most cases were, of course, far simpler. He said he enjoyed hearing attorneys present very different positions.

“These people are seeing things that the other person isn’t seeing, with the same fact pattern. Back and forth, it’s just an interesting intellectual exchange when you’ve got good lawyers that are well prepared. That’s one of the best things about being a judge,” Brown said Monday.

Though he’s stepping down from the bench, Brown, 72, isn’t done with law. He plans to start working in civil law for the Anderson, Walker & Reichert firm, though a start date hasn’t been set.

Brown’s term expires in 2016, but he considered not running for re-election last time, he said. He said he’s in good health, but he just got weary of the job.

“You have child support cases coming at 8:30 in the morning and lasting until noon, then you go to another county and do that,” he said. “I just missed practicing law.”

As an attorney he will, in a way, have more power -- the power to reject a case that isn’t a good fit.

“Here, you don’t have that option. The law is a fascinating business, but it can be cruel and brutal,” Brown said.

Sometimes that meant that “you have to do things that are outside your wisdom range, where you don’t know what you’re doing is right, and if you don’t know what you’re doing is going to harm somebody, it’s really difficult. There’s no way to avoid that. That’s just the game we play.”

Brown’s offices will be turned over to Judge Howard Z. Simms, whose offices will be occupied by a judge not yet selected. The Judicial Nominating Committee plans to begin interviews in mid-January.

Simms praised his colleague.

“Judge Brown is a great guy, and he’s been a tremendous help,” he said.

One prominent case moving from Brown to Simms is that of Stephen McDaniel, who is accused of killing a fellow law student.

“It dawned on me that this could be one of those cases where whoever handles it could be dealing with it five, seven, 10 years from now,” Brown said, “and I’m not going to be around that long.”

Brown said that during his time as a judge he got an education he couldn’t have received anywhere else.

“This has been a good run, for the most part,” said Brown, who said he has learned about the inside workings of schools, other institutions, families and health.

“It’s really a liberal education, it really is. ... I don’t think you could buy that education anywhere. I just don’t think you could. Just having those experiences and learning those things is valuable, if you’re just engaged to the world.”

“That’s what you want out of life,” he said. “Just sort of dive into it.”

To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.

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