Marietta lawyers and legal support staff crowded into Cobb County Superior Court’s oversized ceremonial courtroom Thursday to pay tribute to the most senior member of their bench, Judge Dorothy Robinson, who is retiring at the end of the year.
The Cobb County Bar Association commissioned a portrait of the judge to hang in the ceremonial courtroom and planned the event — which happened to be Robinson’s 75th birthday —to unveil the work by local artist Robert Meredith. The Cobb County Board of Commissioners, the Georgia House of Representatives and the Supreme Court of Georgia sent resolutions honoring the state’s first woman judge and her 40 years of service and had members there to read them before a standing-room-only crowd that filled the aisle and the hallway outside.
“There hasn’t been a more honest or fair judge than Judge Robinson,” said Cobb County Court Administrator and former District Attorney Tom Charron, who acted as master of ceremonies. “Every lawyer in this room knows it. We’re going to miss Judge Robinson.”
Proclamations were read by Cobb County Commission Chairman Tim Lee, state Representative Ed Setzler (R-Acworth) and State Supreme Court Justice P. Harris Hines of Marietta.
Robinson stayed true to her modest, no-nonsense reputation.
“I have a long speech written out, but I’ve decided not to give it,” she said. “I’m sure you’ll be glad to hear that.”
Then she critiqued her portrait, which shows a chic youngish woman with stylish silver-white hair. “The artist did a wonderful job. It doesn’t look like me, but I appreciate it,” she said.
She told the group she enjoyed every moment of her 40 years on the bench. “I am not unhappy about retiring,” she said, adding she plans to “take it easy” for a couple of years, then possibly work as a senior judge.
Robinson thanked former President Jimmy Carter, who as governor appointed her to the Cobb County State Court in 1972, making her the first woman judge of a court of record in Georgia.
In 1980, she ran for a seat on the Superior Court and became the first woman elected to that office in Georgia.
She called Thursday “bittersweet,” saying, “I’m happy you’ve seen fit to come,” and that she’d miss the work and the people in the courtroom.
The courtroom gave Robinson a standing ovation. When the ceremony ended, those who were in the middle of trying cases exited quickly, but others formed a line in the well of the courtroom to speak to the judge, wish her well and remember stories of trying cases before her.
One was former U.S. Representative and Cobb County DA Buddy Darden, now a partner with McKenna Long & Aldridge.
“Who was the first lawyer ever to handle a matter in your courtroom?” he asked her.
“You were,” she said. “You walked me through it nicely.”
Darden was a prosecutor with the office of the Solicitor General. Robinson remembered the sentence: “12 months to serve,” the maximum for the charge. She remembered Darden saying, “That’s good.”
The lawyers remembered Robinson for her fairness and legal accuracy, though not necessarily for her management of their time and her calendars. The bar association gave her with an odd-shaped gift, wrapped in red, about the size of a yardstick. Charron presented it during the ceremony but suggested she open it later. She opened it on a desk in the courtroom just after the ceremony. It looked like a desk nameplate, but it bore five words: “Please remain in the courtroom.”
It drew chuckles from the attorneys gathered around her, who said she was famous for giving lawyers that instruction to wait while she handled other matters.
“She didn’t run the most efficient courtroom, but, in the end, she always gave me a fair trial,” said criminal defense lawyer Kenneth Croy. “That’s all I ever wanted from any judge.”
“She’s the only judge who ever let me give two closings,” said criminal defense lawyer John Greco. He recalled that he forgot a point he meant to make in his closing and asked Robinson for permission to redo it. She said, for him to go ahead. His client got 45 years anyway.
Robinson, a New York native, said after the ceremony that she and her husband of 48 years, Hugh Robinson Jr., a retired U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge, plan to spend some time at their home in Pennsylvania, where she has family. But they will continue their full-time residence at their home in their Cobb County neighborhood, where they still enjoy hiking up Kennesaw Mountain with their two collies.