Today is the last day on the Cobb County Superior Court bench for Judge George Kreeger, who is retiring after 33 years, but he plans to hold on to his favorite part of the job: presiding over the Cobb County Drug Treatment Court.
“It’s one of the things we do that you can feel good about,” said Kreeger of the adult felony drug court he started 10 years ago. Kreeger asked Governor Nathan Deal for senior judge status in order to keep his drug court responsibilities.
Kreeger said the drug court program has built an 85 percent success rate with the hundreds of participants over the past decade, which means that only 15 percent have been arrested again.
“It’s cost effective,” he said. “We’re diverting those folks from the state system. They’re working and paying taxes.”
At one of the regular Monday morning drug court sessions this month, Kreeger spoke individually with each participant, offering encouragement, asking questions, noting accomplishments. Kreeger, known to be a man of few words, seems to have a knack for encouraging drug court participants to open up.
“Good,” he said to one participant who had broken her silence in group therapy for the first time that week. “Do it again.”
“Keep working with your sponsor,” he said to another participant. “That’ll cause you to grow in your recovery.”
“Keep taking life one day at a time,” he said to another. “And work on re-establishing some family relationships. This program will help you with that.”
Briefly at the end of the session, he dealt with the few who’d broken the rules—which include passing drug screens, working, going to counseling and group therapy and staying out of trouble. The punishment was obvious, since they were in prison clothes. But he gave them a warning that they risk being dropped from the program if they have another infraction.
“It’s not going to be good,” he said.
The judge then met new participants, whose placement in the program was negotiated by the team of law enforcement officers, counselors and probation officers who work with the court.
One participant still had to clear the hurdle of bonding out of jail on a felony meth charge. She stood before the bench in a jail jumpsuit, shackles and a waist chain. “Always be on time. Always be where you’re supposed to be,” he told her. “I’ll be the one making decisions about your case. I’ll know more about you than someone else presiding would.”
Just before deputies led her out, he said, “When you get back, I’ll shake your hand and welcome you to the program.”
Continuity is crucial to the continuing success of the program, said Cobb County Superior Court Administrator and former District Attorney Tom Charron. “We’re going to miss him, but we’re real glad he’s staying with us for the drug court. Stability is very important in that program.”
Kreeger is the most senior member of the superior court bench after Judge Dorothy Robinson, who is retiring at the end of this year. “He’s our rock of stability,” said Judge Adele Grubbs. “We hate to see him go.”
His colleagues aren’t the only ones sorry to see Kreeger step down. In a letter to the Judicial Nominating Commission recommending one of the four candidates now on a short list to replace Kreeger, William Gentry—former Cobb County Bar Association president and a partner with Gentry, Smith, Dettmering, Morgan, Schnatmeier & Collins—identified Kreeger as one of his favorites. He praised the candidate he was recommending as having “the traits that made Judge Kreeger such a great judge.”
The nominee Gentry was recommending is Cobb County State Court Judge Robert Leonard II. The others on the short list are: Cobb County State Court Judge Maria Golick; Cobb County Juvenile Court Judge Juanita Stedman; and Troutman Sanders partner Mark VanderBroek.
“He lets lawyers try their case, which lawyers appreciate and respect. When you try the case, he’s listening to every word,” said Gentry when asked about Kreeger’s traits as a judge. “He always does the right thing, and he’s always fair.”
Kreeger is also remembered for what he doesn’t do.
“I’ve never seen him be discourteous to anyone: lawyer, litigant, nonparty, witness,” said Gentry.
“He may not believe them, he may not like what they’re doing, but he always treats them with courtesy.”
He doesn’t interrupt, push, direct or ever embarrass lawyers, Gentry said. “He asks questions, yes, but he doesn’t push to move the case along. He’s letting you call the pace, call the tempo of the case and try it the way you want to try it.”
Former Congressman Buddy Darden, a partner at McKenna Long & Aldridge and a former roommate of Kreeger’s from bachelor days shortly after University of Georgia Law School graduation, called Kreeger “a paragon of proper judicial demeanor.” Darden also took note of what Kreeger is known for not doing.
“He’s never sought headlines or attention. He’s never had the slightest bit of controversy. He never criticizes. Never gets involved in courthouse politics,” Darden said. “He never loses his temper.” Kreeger is not known for talking much, he added. “There’s not a lot of frivolity. He’s not a backslapper or a hand shaker. He’s all about doing the job.”
And by so doing, Darden said, “He has really been an ideal judge.”
Kreeger, now 71, practiced law for 13 years, the last 11 as a partner in Tate & Kreeger, and also served in the Georgia House of Representatives for eight years before going on the bench. He was appointed to the Cobb County State Court in January 1979 by Governor George Busbee and served there for five years. In 1984, Governor Joe Frank Harris appointed him to the superior court.
Kreeger said he decided the time had come to retire this month mainly because he has family travel plans and events he doesn’t want to miss. One is the opening of an art exhibit in Lexington, Va.
The artist, who teaches at Washington and Lee University, happens to be one of his three daughters.
He said he figures the trick to retirement is this: “You want to do it while you can still enjoy it.”