A man whose personality is larger than life, Judge Marion T. Pope is hard to describe in words.
Photographs of the longtime Canton lawyer, judge and politician in his younger years show a Kennedyesque appearance — youthful, charismatic, and handsome.
Even today at age 92, the esteemed judge exudes charm and presence.
So when longtime friend Charles Cobb sent me a copy of Super Lawyers magazine with a note that I might enjoy reading about Judge Pope, the first thing in those pages that jumped out at me was a black and white photo of the big grin that has always made him seem so approachable, despite the fact he is one of the most notable residents of our community.
As a retired judge on the State Court of Appeals, and former chief judge of the second highest court in our state, Judge Pope is certainly one of the most prominent residents of Cherokee County.
Judge Pope was always good friends with my dad, and as a child I was often around him. I think if I remember correctly, he even worked with my dad at the cotton mill offices for a brief time while he was getting his education.
From those early experiences around Judge Pope I deduced, perhaps erroneously, that part of being a good judge was to be able to tell a good joke.
Back then when I was growing up, Judge Pope was a Superior Court judge in the Blue Ridge Judicial Circuit. Now, the only county in the circuit is Cherokee County, but back then it included Forsyth, Pickens, Gilmer, and Fanning as well, which meant that for years Judge Pope “rode circuit” as they said, to hold court in each county seat during the month.
But before all of that, Pope graduated from the old Canton High School, attended North Georgia College in Dahlonega, served in World War II, got a law degree from the University of Georgia, and returned in 1953 to Canton to go into private practice with his friend Andy Roach.
In those days as a young country lawyer, according to the article, Pope was a working class hero, who championed cases of workers’ compensation for mill workers against the textile barons. He fought the local bank to save a family farm and spoke out for those who had no voice and few resources, earning him a popularity with the local folks.
His popularity helped get him elected and send him down to Atlanta to serve in the Georgia House of Representatives from 1963 to 1966. Then, the young lawyer was appointed in 1967 as Superior Court judge and began a 14-year stint on the local bench.
His time serving as judge in Cherokee County officially ended in 1981, when then Gov. George Busbee appointed him to the Court of Appeals for Georgia, where he served until retiring in 2002.
What Judge Pope’s impressive biography and achievements fail to capture, though, is his colorful personality, his penchant for a good story and the way he is still to this day able to capture an audience or a room in an instance.
In the article in the magazine, Judge Pope’s son, Jon tells a story of his father’s brand of “mountain justice” in handling moonshiners, a fairly common crimes in those days when we were a dry county.
Judge Pope was known on the bench as a judge who did not suffer fools gladly.
In those days, if the sheriff arrested someone for making moonshine, he would bring the still to court as evidence. Jon said in the article, “If it was a copper still, that was a good thing. It was safe. They would be fined $25.”
But if it were a still made from a radiator, the lead in the radiator could get into the corn liquor and drinking it could cause a person to go blind. Then, “Dad would issue of a maximum fine of $1,000. He would say, ‘I can’t stop you from making the liquor, but I can make you make good liquor.’”
Another story was recalled of Judge Pope falling afoul of the Dixie Mafia, who put a contract on his life. One night the judge was awakened with a late night phone call from a man saying he had a gun and was on his way over to kill him, Jon recounted. But his father got his shotgun and just said, “Come on over.”
After that Judge Pope started carrying a nickel-plated .38 revolver under his robe.
These days, Judge Pope is still found at his sons’ law firm, in Canton, Hasty and Pope. He continues to be one of the most respected legal minds in the state, who is also well-known as a speaker who sees the humor in life.
When I think of the days when Judge Pope presided in our community, I remember his laugh, his piercing blue eyes, his sandy red hair, and his Southern drawl.
I wish I could recall some of the tales and jokes I heard him share over the years, but I can’t. I only remember he always left us laughing.