Jewish Judge Wins Lifetime Achievement Award
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Jewish Judge Wins Lifetime Achievement Award

Municipal Court Judge Gary E. Jackson was presented the Frost Ward Lifetime Achievement Award in honor of his decades of work in the court and his dedication to improving the legal system.

On June 16, at the annual meeting of the Georgia Council of Municipal Court Judges, Judge Gary E. Jackson was awarded the Frost Ward Lifetime Achievement Award. On being asked how he felt about the award, Jackson, who also celebrated his birthday that day, responded that he was “over the top,” but seemed to struggle somewhat to voice his emotions.

“I can’t find the words, because judges don’t get compliments” Jackson said, chuckling a bit. “The best I can do, on a good day, is to please one out of four people. The only thing I ever get to do where everybody leaves happy is a wedding.”

Jackson, who has been a full-time municipal court judge for over 22 years — in addition to his 12 years as a pro hac judge — is used to working tirelessly each day on hundreds of cases.

“I’ve done as many as 493 in one day,” he laughed. “I actually printed the docket out as a memento.” Before the pandemic, Jackson was typically seeing 250-300 cases a day. The pandemic brought his average down to below a hundred, although it’s now almost back up to pre-pandemic numbers.

“We have 10 full-time judges in the court, and four of us do nothing but traffic,” he said, emphasizing the shared burden of the work. “I only do as much as everyone else.” Despite having to close for around six months in 2020, the courts were very quickly able to get through the accumulated caseload. “We have no backlog of any kind,” said Jackson, proudly.

In addition to his tireless efforts in the courtroom, the award also recognized Jackson’s continuous efforts to improve the court system. “We had a number of longtime legislative goals achieved, which really promote justice and efficiency and make it easier for the average person to go through the court system without making a mistake,” he said. “They’re very esoteric in nature, but sometimes the littlest thing can absolutely destroy someone’s whole lifestyle.”

Case in point: Senate Bill 10. Previously, if a defendant failed to appear (FTA) for their court date for any reason (illness, incarceration, attorney mistakes, postal errors or delays), the court would be required to automatically suspend the defendant’s drivers license. Now, thanks to Senate Bill 10, which Jackson helped draft, the court has discretion to either stop the suspension or order the reinstatement of the license and waive any fees.

In 2014, Jackson worked on H.B. 1000, specifically the Tax Return Intercept Program (TRIP), which collects fines from tax returns instead of sending the delinquent defendants to jail, further burdening both the court system and the defendants.

The implementation of TRIP also led to the discovery that many drivers with unpaid fines were actually victims of identity theft. Jackson also instituted the passage of HB 916, which completely overhauled the appeals process for traffic cases in municipal courts, as well as cases in magistrate and probate courts related to traffic tickets, game and fish violations and even tax appeals and zoning disputes. He said that this process had not changed in about 175 years, making a new system long overdue.

Jackson’s record in the Jewish community is similarly impressive. The judge grew up in Atlanta, going to Ahavath Achim — where his wife, Jean, is a past president of the sisterhood — and helped to launch the Pinch Hitter program in 1980 alongside B’nai B’rith Director Arnold Ellison and the owner/editor of the Southern Israelite, Vida Goldgar. The program, in which Jews volunteer at hospitals during Christmas so that non-essential staff can spend the holiday at home with their families, was selected as the 335th Daily Point of Light by George H.W. Bush.

Despite everything that Jackson’s accomplished, he’s not done yet. His next goal is to reform and revise laws related to the Traffic Violation Bureau (TVB), which have remained largely unchanged since 1960. According to the current laws, paying a traffic fine on the internet or by telephone counts as an admission of guilt.

For drivers under 21 who speed more than 24 mph over the limit or have previous tickets, merely paying a ticket using the TVB can cause an instant license suspension. According to Judge Jackson, the Victim Impact Statement and more recent laws may make many of these older statutes illegal. That’s why he’s working diligently to get the TVB updated and reformed.

Once that’s done, he says, maybe then he’ll slow down.

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