After nearly 30 years on the bench in Houston County, Superior Court Chief Judge George Nunn says he's still not comfortable with being ushered in and out of the courtroom with a bailiff's customary announcement.
"I still feel funny when they open the door and say, 'All rise,' and everybody stands up for me to come out of the courtroom," said Nunn, 71, who is not seeking re-election. "I don't feel real comfortable with that.
"But I have learned over the years, they're not standing up for George Nunn, they're standing up for the office, really, and you have to have some manner of decorum and respect in the courtroom.
"And of course, the judge has to demonstrate that and earn that," said Nunn, who faced opposition for the job only twice during his career.
Nunn was appointed as a Superior Court judge in 1986 by then-Gov. Joe Frank Harris, and he became chief judge in 1996.
He said he wants to be remembered as fair, courteous and even tempered.
"I'm not so vain as to think I'm the brightest bulb in the chandelier," he said, "but I have always tried to be courteous and fair and polite to the attorneys and the parties that come before me."
Nunn, who served 16 years in private practice in Atlanta and later in Perry, recalled advice from a fellow attorney when he first came to the bench.
"He said to me, 'George, don't ever forget what it was like being an attorney,' and I've always tried to remember that," Nunn said. "I've just always tried to be very courteous and respectful to all attorneys, but especially to lawyers who come in from the outside."
A SENSE OF HUMOR
Known for his wit and humor, Nunn has roasted many Houston County dignitaries over the years at Rotary Club functions. He's also written humorous poems for his sisters when they turned 60, for his children when they got married and for a couple of retirement ceremonies. He has shared some of his poems at his church.
As a Christmas gift several years ago, his secretary compiled the poems in a leather binder that's at least 2 inches thick.
"I was rather amazed at how thick the book was," said Nunn, who learned last week that the Rotary Club is planning to roast him sometime this summer. "I guess it falls under 'what goes around comes around.'"
Nunn, an Emory College and Emory Law School graduate, has been designated three times to serve in place of a justice on the Georgia Supreme Court. The most recent was in the summer of 2013 when he helped decide a complex case involving optometrists and eye benefits.
"The fact that I've been invited back more than once makes me feel good," Nunn said.
He shared a story of a time when he was on the state's high court while was also serving as president of the Council of Superior Court Judges. In that unusual case, the entire Supreme Court had recused themselves, and Nunn had been called on to serve in place of the chief justice.
With a marble wall behind their seats, the judges entered and exited through marble doors within the back wall. But no one told Nunn about a push lever in the floor that opens the marble doors when it's time to leave.
"So we got up, and I was to be the first one out, and I turned around, and I'm looking at this wall, and I think, I don't have any idea how to get this door open," Nunn said. "And I'm standing there and I realize that all the others are sort of looking at me, and you've got a courtroom full of people, and lawyers and people who are used to being there in the court.
"And I suddenly thought, well, I'm not going to turn around and be embarrassed. And the only thing I could think of to say was, 'Open Sesame.' And just as I said it, the doors just parted."
Someone working in the courthouse had figured out what was going on and did whatever was necessary to make the doors open, Nunn said.
"Nobody heard me except all the other judges that were there," said Nunn, laughing. "They heard me say, 'Open Sesame,' and the doors just parted, and we walked out, and they were all laughing and chuckling. And that was sort of funny."
MORE SERIOUS MOMENTS
But the job, of course, turned more serious more times than not.
Nunn recalled a 1987 Houston County case that was a trial by fire for him as a new judge. That case, the murder trial of a black doctor from Fort Valley accused of killing a white woman in Houston County, was racially charged and attracted national attention. The trial, which lasted for weeks, required the jury to be sequestered and had its share of headaches, including the body of the victim having to exhumed and the death of a juror's sister, Nunn said. The doctor was found guilty, the case was overturned on appeal, and when it was retried, the jury found the defendant not guilty.
"But it turned out to be sort of a good thing for me because when it was all over, I sort of knew that it wasn't likely that I would have anything worse than that to come along. And I felt like if I could make it through that and handle that, I could get through anything," Nunn said. "So that was sort of a source of some comfort when difficult things came up later."
Nunn also shared a scary experience in the former courthouse in downtown Perry in the early 1990s. He'd just sentenced a man to spend some time behind bars when a sheriff's investigator ran into his office with the victim -- the man's wife -- saying that the convicted man was loose with a gun and had "shot" a deputy.
It turned out that the convicted man had fled down the courthouse stairs and outside to the parking lot with a deputy chasing him, followed by the man's family. The man reached his car, pulled a weapon and pointed it at the deputy, who fell backward. The deputy had not been shot, but the man shot himself in the head in the parking lot.
"For a few moments, when I was told that he was loose in the courthouse and had a gun and had shot a deputy ... it was pretty frightening," Nunn said. "But I have never felt personally threatened."
'A MAN OF ABSOLUTE INTEGRITY'
When he retires, Nunn said he hopes to keep at least one foot in the court door. He wants to serve as a senior judge, filling in from time to time. He expects he'll also golf, fish, travel, spend time with his grandchildren and "just enjoy myself."
Larry Walker, a Perry attorney and a former majority leader in the Georgia House of Representatives, has known Nunn his entire life. As young boys, both lived on Swift Street and sometimes played together. They also played on Perry High School's basketball team, though Nunn is two years younger than Walker.
"I am proud to say that I had something to do with George being appointed to the bench by then-Gov. Joe Frank Harris," said Walker, who lauded Nunn's appointment as "outstanding."
"In reverse order of importance, I would say that George is very funny, very bright and a man of absolute integrity," Walker said. "The only complaint I have of Judge Nunn is that despite the fact that we have been lifelong friends and I was involved in his appointment, as a lawyer, I always had trouble in getting him to rule for me.
"It could be that he was 'bending over backwards' not to show partiality. On the other hand, it could be that I was wrong!" Walker exclaimed.
Walker added that he and his wife, Janice, consider Nunn and his wife, Janet, to be "two of our best friends."
To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559, or find her on Twitter@ becpurser.