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Circuit judge enters senior status program

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By Jeff Moreland

He's been sitting on the bench for a while, but now, Doughlas "Dodie" George will be taking a break. Sort of.

George announced recently that he has resigned from his position as 11th Circuit Judge and entered the senior status program for Kentucky judges. George took the step prior to the state's Jan. 31 deadline and will now fill in where needed in appointments as a special judge.

So what was his first assignment?

"I've basically just stepped right back into my old seat, doing my old job," he said. "I hope to be able to do that most of this year. A lot depends on what the governor and the chief justice want to do, filling all these seats they're going to have to fill."

The seats George spoke of include the 21 judges across the commonwealth who took the option to enter the senior status program, which will take them from their normal duties and have them working a minimum of 120 days and a maximum of 180 days per year.

With his old seat open on the 11th Circuit bench, George will replace himself for most of the coming year, then be open to travel anywhere in the state he may be needed.

"There will probably be some travel after this year, but for now, it will be just like normal," he said. "I know there are some judges who have been deployed, one to Iraq and one to Eastern Europe for military duty. They use special judges in cases like that to fill those seats until they come back, so I could fill in anywhere in the state, and there may be some travel."

George said he has enjoyed his time on the bench serving the communities of Washington, Marion, Taylor and Green counties, and looks forward to remaining in some of the programs he has been a part of in recent years, including drug court.

"I would like to continue drug court and see the first graduating class of that program," he said.

George and Judge Amy Anderson serve the four-county area presiding over drug court, which was established by the Administrative Office of the Courts. George said the program allows people who may have drug offenses or drug problems to be referred to drug court, rather than remain in the regular court system. Once accepted in drug court, the participants are held to very high standards while competing the three-phase program.

"It's very intense, and they have to finish all three phases to complete the program," he said.

Phase one requires participants to meet with a counselor three times per week, as well as be tested for drugs and alcohol three times per week and appear in drug court twice per month. George said as the participants progress, they meet and test less frequently, but still attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

"It takes about 15 to 18 months to graduate," George said. "We have several people in phase three in both county groups right now. There are some people in the program doing an excellent job, who have been sober for more than a year, and they appear to be on the right track to making themselves a productive member of society."

George has also been a member of the project development boards for three new judicial centers in the area, including Washington, Marion and Green counties. He said he would like to see those projects completed but is not sure if his time on the job will permit that in all cases.

When he's not working, George said the golf course will be a likely place to find him, if he's not busy at home.

"I imagine I'll have a big honey-do list, but I do enjoy playing golf," he laughed. "I haven't played as much as I'd like to have played the past several years. I've been pretty busy and haven't had a lot of spare time."

When his time in the 11th Circuit is complete, he said the people are what he will miss most.

"I've worked with several clerks in all four counties, and I've made good friendships with them and their staffs, and I know them on a first-name basis," George said. "I've also had a good relationship with our attorneys. We all get along in court. I'll miss rehashing the UK games before court and during breaks. Also, my secretary, Ruth [Smith] is like family. More than anything, I will miss the people more than anything."

"He's very pleasant to work with, and very considerate," said Smith, who will have been working full-time for George for 11 years as of Feb. 18. "He's very family oriented, and I think he's a fair judge in all situations. I look forward to coming to work every day."

"You've got to make somebody feel at ease and feel like a person," George said about working with the public. "Even though they're in court and down on their luck, you have to treat everybody with respect and you can't treat them any differently than you would treat anybody else. That's what I've tried to do over the years, and I would hope that's what most people would say about me."

- Jeff Moreland is editor and general manager of The Springfield Sun.