Judge David Motes: Justice isn’t one size fits all

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Judge David Motes is the chief judge of the Piedmont Judicial Circuit which includes Jackson, Barrow and Banks counties.

By KATIE JUSTICE, kjustice@clickthepaper.com

During his tenure as a judge, Chief Judge David Motes has seen five different presidents reside in the White House and witnessed the economic recessions and recoveries of three decades. Motes has been practicing and studying law for 32 years, and he has served as a judge in the area for 24 of those years.

“I wanted to help people, people that have a problem that they couldn’t solve themselves,” said Motes, of his reason for practicing law. “I saw what I thought were injustices in my youth and wanted to try to correct some of them.”

Motes’ law career got its start at the University of Georgia. He is a self proclaimed “double dawg,” because he attended the UGA for both undergraduate studies and law school.

For the past 17 years, Motes has served as a judge in the Piedmont Circuit of the 10th Judicial District in Georgia. Before that, Motes served as a judge in Jackson County for seven years.

During his time as a judge, Motes has seen a number of changes to how justice is served within the courthouse, including a series of changes to sentencing laws that went into effect last July. However, for Motes, the most outstanding change was the 1995 passage of a law outlining mandatory minimum sentencing.

“Justice isn’t one size fits all, and I think that’s what the problem is with mandatory minimum sentencing,” said Motes, who said

he believes that while crimes have the same names, the circumstances of each are different.

Motes’ caseload varies depending on the individual cases. He said that some days he hears a hundred cases, and sometimes a trial lasts two weeks.

One of the most memorable cases for Motes was the 1999 trial of Donnie Lance. Lance received the death penalty for killing his ex-wife and her boyfriend in 1997.

“That was probably one of the most difficult cases I’ve ever had to try,” said Motes.

However, Motes said death penalty cases are not too common, and in regard to his day-to-day caseload, the worst trials are those for child custody.

“You have to decide between two parents, and your decision has lasting consequences for the child,” said Motes, who admits that custody cases impact him the greatest emotionally.

Not all court cases are easily decided.

“There are times when there’s not good decision. You have to decide for one side or the other – there’s no third choice,” said Motes. “But I don’t make laws. I just interpret them and apply them to specific cases. That’s what judges should do.”

Motes has been living in Jackson County almost his whole life; although he was born at the Winder-Barrow Hospital. He currently lives in Jackson County with his wife of almost 28 years, Pamela Dodd Motes.

“My wife does remind me, most people are not like what I see in court. Most people are honest, good, law-abiding citizens and settle their disputes peaceably,” said Motes, who admits being a judge has turned him into a pessimist.

Nonetheless, Motes says that despite often seeing people at their worst, he has never considered changing his profession.

“I enjoy what I do. It can be emotionally draining. It can be depressing, but I think I’ve got the responsibility to make the best decision I can,” said Motes. “After all, I signed up for this.”