Photos Jason Huynh
If you are a native of Rome, chances are, you have heard the name Judge Timothy Pape.
Judge Pape is most known for his dedication to the children of Rome, as well as receiving the honor of serving as the first elected Juvenile Court judge in Georgia and Floyd County. If you ask anyone who has dealt with Pape on a professional level the overwhelming opinion is simply, “Judge Pape was fair. He always looked out for others.”
His love for the law and fighting for the rights of the ill-informed is still very much alive.
When I contacted Judge Pape to set up our interview, I actually interrupted his vacation. He graciously told me that he was on a cruise ship in Alaska and wondered if we could meet for our interview after he had docked at home.
Of course, I agreed.
But to be honest, after we had secured an interview time and place, I was quite nervous. Interviewing a man respected by so many was a daunting task and I certainly did not want to take it for lightly.
After meeting him and shaking his hand, the man in front of me and the stories I had heard of the judge did seem not the same. From his friendly banter with Judge Greg Price who currently presides over Floyd County’s Juvenile Court, to his quick wit and playful way with his ex-colleagues, it is easy to see how he was able to relate to the public he was tasked with serving for more than 30 years.
On the day of our interview, Judge Pape strolled into the Courthouse sporting khaki cargo pants and a Columbia Performance Fishing Gear (PFG) shirt. His laidback choice in clothing matched his demeanor, as before he even entered the courtroom, he could be heard cracking jokes down the hall.
My nerves subsided, and I began an interview with a man hell bent on making the most out of what matters to him.
From Gavel to Grandpa
Pape was born in Pittsville, Massachusetts, comically labeling himself a “good Yankee”.
When General Electric (GE) built a plant here in Rome in 1952, Pape’s dad (who worked for GE in Pittsville) was promoted to maintenance foreman of the new location. The soon-to-be lawyer and his family got on the road and made the long trek down to Northwest Georgia. “We transferred from Pittsville to
Rome because my father took a job managing the plant,” explains Pape. “This was when I was about five years old and I have been a Roman ever since.”
After graduating from high school as an East Rome Gladiator, Pape completed his undergraduate degree at Mercer University with the intention of going to law school. For many young scholars predicting career paths is like predicting Georgia winters, and Pape left Mercer with a degree in Political Science and Philosophy.
“After I graduated from Mercer, I was thinking, at the time, of becoming a university professor. I loved Berry College and Rome, so that is where I was hoping to end up after graduate school,” says Pape. “I applied and was accepted into the University of Georgia in their philosophy graduate program.
“I completed a research and teaching assistantship at UGA and found out that I was not as cut out for the job as I thought I needed to be. So, I went back to my original idea of attending law school. After taking a year-long hiatus to work and save up money, I was accepted to the University of Georgia School of Law,” remembers Pape.
Pape graduated from UGA Law in 1977 at the age of 29—holding about ten combined years of education after high school with four years of undergraduate studies, a year of intermission, three years of graduate study and a few life lessons along the way.
“I started my career as an assistant defense attorney here in Rome, where I worked for a few years before transitioning into private practice,” says Pape.
He then explains how it was his true calling to be a lawyer, mostly because he hated seeing people being taken advantage of. “I wanted to be a lawyer, so I could win it for the little guy. I can remember in law school, one of my professors saying, ‘You want to do criminal law? That’s dirty law. You need to be in business law.’ I said, ‘No, I want to do something that has good results and to help others.’ Being an assistant DA, your job was to help people who were victimized, which is exactly what I wanted to do,” says Pape.
After two years of serving as assistant DA, Pape decided that in an effort to understand all aspects of the law, he needed to experience the other side as well. “I enjoyed being an assistant DA, but there are people who get accused of things they are not guilty of. This is really what pushed me to a private practice,” explains Pape.
“This is history right here,” he laughs as he and his friend Judge Price share a chuckle from across the room.
Then the retired voice of reason and authority opens his mind, and recalls the defining moment of a legacy. The way he speaks about this experience lets listeners know that this sparked a flame that still burns inside a man meant for service. This case was essentially what led Pape to serve in the juvenile system here in Rome.
“Way back when, there was a place called Ruth’s Home of Compassion in Rosedale, Georgia that was purely a church-organized institution. A group of churches would pay to have troubled girls sent to this group home in order to ‘redeem them,’” says Pape.
“A couple of the girls ran and accused them of abuse. Not anything terrible, but I ended up being appointed as an attorney Guardian ad Litem, or a person the court appoints to investigate what solutions would be in the best interests of a child. That is how I ended up in juvenile justice, and this case was my first work with juvenile court, which eventually led to me becoming a judge,” says Pape.
Pape was the first elected Juvenile Court Judge in Georgia and served in that post full time starting in 1990 after serving part time beginning in 1982. He is currently recorded as the longest serving elected representative in the State of Georgia.
Juvenile Court judges are appointed by a Supreme Court judge, as directed in the Constitution of the State of Georgia. As an amendment to the Constitution of Floyd County, Juvenile Court judges within the county are elected instead of appointed.
“Being elected made me feel more responsible for the children that I was sitting in front of each day. It also gave me more support from the community because it was almost as if they had asked me to do the job,” says Pape.
Pape explains his time serving in Floyd County as a judge part-time, which was not cutting it, as the caseload was consistently heavy with families and children in need.
“It was a job that needed someone on hand 24/7 in order to learn the psychology of children’s behavior, how Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) and the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) operates, what the available resources were and more,” explains Pape. “This is not a practice where a jury decides things. It is not a practice where you hand it off to someone else. There is an awful lot in the law that requires the judge themselves to supervise what is being handled.”
When asked about the challenges of helping families and children in crisis, his answer is surprising. After spending time with him, it is easy to see that his approach to helping it is consistent with how he sees people and world around him.
“I have never found parents who wanted to be bad and wanted to do bad things to their children. It simply stems from how they have been raised, or their ruminations,” explains Pape.
“The folks who you end up dealing with here are the ones who have very serious complications in their lives, and it is not always their fault. I live by the mantra to ‘judge without being judgmental.’ You do not treat people as less than yourself and you have to understand that they are not seeing their world as you would. As a judge, you are challenged to encourage them to look at themselves differently and to treat their kids differently, which is so important,” says Pape.
It’s as simple as that… according to Pape. Being an effective and fair judge is just “how you treat people.”
Pape retired as Juvenile Court Judge in 2013, just two months short of 31 years. His friends, Gregory Price and Judge Pro-Temp Hal Duffy, took his place and have run with the baton without missing a stride.
Pape currently lives on the lake in Big Canoe, but he and his wife, Jackie, are making the move back to Rome next year, as they purchased a Loft on Broad Street.
“I have an absolutely wonderful wife who is laid back and we love lots of the same things,” says Pape. “We have so much fun together.”
Pape still hangs out with a group of old juvenile court judges and their families on the weekends. “We go to the club every Friday and just have a good time,” jokes Pape. “Seriously though, we go out on the pontoon boat and fish, tour winery’s, travel together and more.”
In the first year of his retirement, he and Jackie jumped in the car and drove all the way to California and back. When I tried to set up our interview, he and his wife were in the process of marking off an eagerly awaited bucket-list trip to Alaska. Laying down the gavel and picking up a really nice camera has been good for the long-time advocate for many, and now he enjoys photographing and spending time with his children and grandchildren.
“I’m in an interview with this magazine, honey…can I call you back?” he says to his bride after answering an unexpected call. “Yeah, the grandbaby is waiting on me at home, so I’m gonna have to go soon.”
Spoken like a man who has seen a few things from the bench and appreciates the value of family.
Pape is most definitely making use of his time during retirement, which after a long career of service is well-deserved. The effect that Judge Timothy Pape has had on Rome and Floyd County residents will far exceed his time on the bench and his fight was one for good and understanding.
From gavel to grandpa, it seems like he’s got this life thing licked.