Judge Samuel Ozburn pauses in concentration as he works his way back through his years of memories as a lawyer and judge.
He begins to speak, choosing his words carefully, searching for the best summary.
"There’s so much about being a judge that appeals to me. It’s enabled me to just serve others. That’s been my goal at every level. My position as a judge gives me greater ability to affect people in a positive way," Ozburn said. "The people (whose cases I preside over) may not always think I’m helping them, but I hope that every decision I make has a positive impact."
That desire to help others drives Ozburn in all aspects of his life, whether on the bench or out in the community. But that same power to affect change, which is why Ozburn loves being a judge, also makes his job difficult at times.
"The hardest part of being a Superior Court judge is having to decide a custody case between two embittered parents who are both good people. It’s a struggle thinking about what the long-term effects will be on the child," Ozburn said.
Ozburn’s compassion is an important part of what makes him a respected judge and a beloved resident, his Law Clerk Evelyn Peters said.
"He’s a truly good-hearted person; that’s one of the reasons I started working with him. He’s been an inspiration for me," Peters said. "He’s a very unique, very special, good-hearted man."
The same sentiment is expressed by residents and community leaders around the county and is one of the reasons Sen. John Douglas nominated Ozburn for the vacant position on the State Supreme Court. The other reason is Ozburn’s knowledge of the law.
"He knows the law and he’s fair. He’s tough when he has to be and compassionate when he has to be. He’s just the person who would represent all of Georgia very well," Douglas said. "He has the background, the philosophy and the experience we’re looking for. He makes us all proud."
Ozburn’s close colleague Judge Horace Johnson said being on an appellate court is a much different job. If Ozburn is selected to the Supreme Court, he won’t be able to interact with the public nearly as often, but Johnson said that’s where Ozburn’s knowledge and careful application of the law serve him well."He’s certainly eminently qualified and I know he would do a great job. He is deliberate in his service and
studies. He doesn’t seek to be quick without being informed and that’s what that job takes," Johnson said. "He has experience in several different areas. He was in private practice for a number of years before coming on the bench, so he has that practical experience which is especially important in appellate matters."
Ozburn said being nominated to the Supreme Court has never been a goal of his, just like becoming a judge in the first place was never a concerted goal. He said he’s always focused on where he is to make sure he gave his full effort to the job. Whenever a chance for advancement came along, he would carefully consider it. Both times he decided a promotion would allow him to positively affect more people.
"I’ve always felt called to help people with problems in life," Ozburn said.
Ozburn’s ability to help people from the bench has to be framed within the law, but he helps without reservation through his church and other community organizations. He’s the chairman of the Salvation Army’s Board of Directors, an elder at Eastridge Community Church, a member of the Covington Kiwanis Club and a volunteer with the food pantry and the local United Way.
He’s also tirelessly worked to educate youth in Newton County by brining them to the courthouse and teaching them the legal process. He said if the children know the law and the consequences of breaking it early on, they can avoid making mistakes later in life.
In addition to Douglas, the Newton County Board of Commissioners, the Covington and Social Circle city councils and other organizations have written resolutions of support for Ozburn’s nomination to the Georgia Supreme Court.
"Being older than most, I’ve known Judge Ozburn my entire life," District 1 Commissioner Mort Ewing said. "I knew his whole family. He went to my church for many years and was the youth director there. He had a lifelong affect on my son, Ben, for which I’m grateful. He has the kind of character we need in the Supreme Court."
The Georgia Judicial Nominating Commission will interview Ozburn and all of the other nominees over the next couple of weeks and will then send the top five nominees to Gov. Sonny Perdue, who will make the final selection.