Western Circuit Bar honors Athens State Court judge

ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — When State Court Judge Kent Lawrence died in March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of traditional funeral services.

On Monday, the Western Circuit Bar Association hosted a belated memorial service luncheon in Athens for the longtime Clarke County State Court judge who established Georgia’s first DUI/Drug Court.

Several family members, including his wife, Karlene Lawrence, attended the luncheon, where Lawrence’s legacy in Athens was remembered by State Court Judge Charles Auslander and Superior Court Judge Lawton Stephens.

Many University of Georgia football fans remember Lawrence as a star receiver.

“If you were a kid growing up in Athens, Georgia in the 1960s, Kent Lawrence was a household name,” Stephens said of the man who became his close friend during his career in the field. judicial.

But after Lawrence’s playing days in college and the NFL, he returned to Athens to earn a master’s degree while working for the UGA Police Department. In 1974, he became the first police chief of the new Clarke County Police Department, according to Auslander, who described Lawrence’s rise to a seat on the bench where he was appointed in 1986 to judge. .

“He realized he had a real love for law and decided he would go to law school while working full time,” Auslander said.

But it was while working in law enforcement and then as a lawyer that Auslander said Lawrence was ‘tired of seeing the same people come before him with substance abuse issues’ without other proposed solution than more prison sentences.

In 2000, Lawrence established the first DUI court, but without such a program in Georgia, he traveled to New York, Michigan and New Mexico to study how similar courts operate, according to Auslander.

Today, the court has 17 probation officers to oversee more than 3,000 people, and Lawrence has also set up a drug lab that can provide drug test results within an hour.

“He wasn’t an average person. He wasn’t an average lawyer. He wasn’t an average judge. He didn’t accept the status quo,” Auslander said, adding “he paved a way which we now follow”.

Stephens recalled that at age 12 he attended the 1966 UGA game against Georgia Tech, which was undefeated. He watched Lawrence go out to return a punt.

“He got the punt back from 75 yards for a touchdown and we beat Tech and ruined their undefeated season,” Stephens said.

Lawrence was a gifted athlete, “but you would never know that if you saw him playing golf,” Stephens joked as he leveled good-natured beards good friends share with a laugh.

“I will miss your compassion for the oppressed and people going through difficult times in life, who came to your court to seek justice and found it,” he said.

“He knew that at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how many touchdowns you score. It doesn’t matter how many cases you win. What really matters is how many people you help along the way and how many lives you save. Through this measure, the legacy of Kent Lawrence will never be forgotten,” Stephens said.

Bar Association President Gregory Sowell told the meeting that the Georgia Athletic Department has established a scholarship for a student-athlete pursuing a degree in criminal justice. To contribute to the endowment in Lawrence’s honor, go to


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