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One County, One Judge
Remembering Judge Clarence R. Vaughn, Jr.
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The Rockdale Circuit is an anomaly among Georgia judicial circuits. It is a one-county circuit, carved out of the Stone Mountain Circuit in 1982. Its creation is largely the story of one man, the Hon. Clarence R. Vaughn Jr. As the circuit’s first superior court judge, he was a wealthy and powerful former legislator who was instrumental in drafting the very legislation that created the circuit. It sounds like a bad formula for abuse of power in this day of the judicial scandals, but nothing could be further from the truth. Vaughn was an intelligent and thoughtful man, who shaped this town and shaped my life.

As a judge, Vaughn’s message of justice and his commitment to service were especially poignant considering who he was. When he began practicing law, Vaughn was one of a handful of educated men and attorneys in Conyers. He was elected to the Legislature in 1959 and served for 24 years, including stints as the governor’s floor leader and majority leader. Vaughn wielded political might across the state. His family owned a large part of the county, and he was a man of means. At that time he left the legislature, Vaughn could have done a great many things with his money and influence to benefit him. Instead, Vaughn chose to serve the citizens of Rockdale as a superior court judge. Rockdale County is the second smallest county in the state, and in 1982 its judicial needs were being sidelined as a result of sharing a circuit with the much larger DeKalb and Gwinnett counties. Vaughn saw that the people of Rockdale needed to break away from the big city problems. While serving in the Legislature, Vaughn helped draft the legislation for the creation of the circuit, and then became its first judge.

Vaughn then presided on the bench in Rockdale for 16 years, from 1982 until his retirement in 1998 at the age of 78. He passed away in 2007 at the age of 86. Vaughn was honored by the Georgia House of Representatives in House Resolution 733. Unfortunately, I never had the pleasure of practicing before him.

When I was a child, he never knew my name, but he was always kind to me. And the things he said always had meaning. He spoke to kids like me as if we were his equal. At public events, he often took time from politicking to teach us children about judges, juries, courts and more. Vaughn explained that justice meant everyone was treated the same. Whether you were black or white, rich or poor, we all had the same rights. He didn’t talk down to children or tell us that we would understand someday. He wanted us to understand the rule of law, right then and there.

There isn’t enough room in this article to say all the things he did for Rockdale, such as starting the Rockdale House to treat addiction, helping to build a veterans memorial and countless other acts. Today, I like to think Rockdale County is carved in Vaughn’s image. He helped make Rockdale a great place to grow up and remembering him works to keep it that way. Georgia’s history is full of great stories and great Georgians who made up the towns and counties that dot the map. Hon. Clarence R. Vaughn Jr. was one of them.


This article is an edited reprint from the October issue of the Georgia Bar Journal by Rockdale resident Michael Geoffroy, a practicing attorney in Rockdale and president of the Young Lawyers Division of the State Bar of Georgia.