Valdosta Daily Times

What We Think

September 28, 2012

Ellerbee: Court dismissed

VALDOSTA — Judge Wayne Ellerbee is retiring after 40 years of service as the juvenile court judge. A colorful figure, Ellerbee’s name is often whispered in hushed tones by school children who have heard of his no-holds-barred approach.

Ellerbee’s tongue-lashings are legendary. Parents and children alike often weep after an appearance before him. His anger is most often directed at the parents, or rather mothers and grandmothers, as fathers are rare in the courtroom. And that’s precisely Ellerbee’s point.

According to the judge, if he could lock up the parents, he would, as most of them are perfectly aware of what their children are doing but are either too sorry or doped up to care. Occasionally, he does get a mother and father who are really trying to raise their child right, but those times are rare and getting rarer.

Ellerbee has been seen as too strict, over-bearing, and not sympathetic enough. But he metes out punishment evenly, speaks to everyone in the same manner, and treats those in his courtroom the same, case after case, no exceptions. And no excuses.

All too often, the best he can hope for is that by sending the child to a facility for a month, to counseling, to monitoring, etc., that child will make the conscious decision that a life of crime is not what they want and they’ll turn themselves around and become productive adults. Too many of these children are their only hope, as they have no family unit, their lives are marked with violent, abusive or neglectful behavior on the part of those who “made” them, and there is nowhere else to send them for help.

Ellerbee has seen a lot in four decades, and is now seeing third- and fourth-generation offenders. Children are having children at a younger age, and younger children are committing crimes. While the criminal cases are tragic for many reasons, the neglect cases are heartbreaking, and the judge said those are the ones that will stay with him always.

James Council will be sworn in next week as the new juvenile judge and Ellerbee will return to practicing law full time. Whether you agree with his tactics and courtroom demeanor or not, it’s a rare individual who does not respect him, however begrudgingly, because he treats everyone the same without respect to race, sex, age, or economic status.

You’ve earned your retirement, Judge Ellerbee, but your legacy is in the lives of the children you have saved and, hopefully, will be expressed in the parents they will one day become.

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