One of the men of greatest influence in my life has fallen victim to C-19. Rest in peace Judge Jon Payne. In my lifetime, my family has struggled and suffered as a result of my father’s death and how the administration of my father’s estate has unfolded. Everyone I have ever met that knew him described him as fair and kind. For the most part, these are not qualities I have found in legal professionals. Judge Payne spent hours educating my family about probate law, providing us with resources, providing us with emotional support, and offering endless encouragement. Judge Payne instilled a sense of hope and confidence in me that our legal system is as magnificient as people describe it to be in the history books. Watching his court create well-fit outcomes for years has hedged against my losing fiath in the judicial system and made me realize that it is the legal mind wielding the sword that determines whether the system is effective for the people it serves…it is not the system that is flawed.
For the comfort of his constituents, he held court in his office. Despite having the option to delgate the task, he personally investigated the circumstances in the cases on his dockett. He invested an enormous amount of time in getting to know the families that appeared before him. He never lost sight of his role as a servant of the people, in fact, it was the element of his job he enjoyed the most. He did not take the easy route and he did not make popular decisions. He did not allow attorneys to bill clients hundreds of dollars for mailing a letter or visiting a store for them. He did not allow attorneys to bill conservatorship more than the legislated $500.00. He required reasonableness, something our culture seems to be lacking as of late.
I will never forget how nervous and wonder-filled I was the first time I visited his bookshelf-lined office. When we arrived, he was waering jeans and a polo shirt, shaking the hand of a mentally limited adult and rewarding him on his recent accomplishments and invted him in to visit him anytime, no appoitnment required. He invited us to have a seat and spent over three hours inquiring about the case we were interested in transferring to his docket. We talked about hunting, fishing, the home we live in, and his handgun collection. He was polite and respectful of my mother and treated her with dignity. It was the most I had smiled in months. We returned regularly to visit and I learned so much from him about the law, the community I live in, the history of the family that built our home, and what type of man I intend to be. He shared stories with us, introduced us to excellent people in our community, welcomed us into his life beyond the courthouse, and helped me craft the strategy to achieve emancipation and resolve quite a few problems in my life.
I feel his absence, my confidence in navigating the legal challenges that lay ahead is shaken, and I pray the next judge continues Judge Payne’s “people’s court” tradition. The most important lessons I learned from him are 1) justice, how well-fit the outcome is to the people, and maintenance of quality of life must be balanced; 2) the law must always evolve to suit society as it evolves; 3) the law will only evolve if constituents rise up and advocate for themeselves whether, or not it aligns with current legislation; 4) there is nothing that should stop the system from being productive for its people, no matter how inconvenient, ever.
A big thank you to Governor Kemp for bringing to light Judge Payne's tenure was one of Georgia's longest services and lowering the flags to honor him. It was a pleasure and honor to know Judge Payne and I am humbled by his example and the personal interest he took in my journey. Rest well.
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