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Community says farewell, thanks to Judge Johnston
Municipal court judge heads into retirement in style
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Judge Lane Johnston retires from Municipal Court after 18 years. Johnston has spent 45 years as an officer of the court in one capacity or another. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff
    Former Statesboro Municipal Court Judge J. Lane Johnston is used to seeing a packed courtroom, but Wednesday, there were no defendants, and Johnston was in front of the bench instead of behind it.
    The people were there to recognize Johnston's retirement, and the room was filled with city and county leaders, law enforcement officers, other government employees, friends and family — all wishing the judge well.
    There was good food and good vibes, and many fond memories and recollections shared between those who have worked with Johnston — or found themselves in front of his bench, facing his stern but compassionate judgment.
    Ogeechee Judicial Circuit District Attorney Richard Mallard said he called Johnston "Chief Bigheart," echoing others who noted the judge's penchant for being kind, yet commanding, in his sentencing.  Johnston was district attorney from 1968 to 1991, and Mallard said his wisdom has been handed down along with the position ever since.
    As everyone milled around, waiting their turn to greet Johnston, Statesboro Police Chief Stan York commented on the retiring judge's contribution to the community.
    "He's a wonderful man," he said. "For years he's sat on that bench and handed out justice in a fair manner to all people. I hate to see him leave, but I understand, and I wish him well. He has been a true icon in public safety for the past 50 years, and we'll miss him dearly."
    Upcoming Statesboro Mayor Joe Brannen gained the crowd's attention when an officer blew an ear-piercing whistle. Holding a plaque dedicated to both Statesboro City Attorney Sam Brannen as well as Johnston, which he said will be installed in the proposed new municipal building, Brannen thanked Johnston for his years of service.
    "I guess it's time to say goodbye," Johnston said. He explained some health challenges due to Parkinson's disease, and grew emotional as he expressed his gratitude to the community.
    "I have literally dedicated my life to public service," he said. "I have so many memories." He shared some of those memories, including when Sam Brannen handed over the municipal court reins. Johnston's first experience watching the municipal court proceedings consisted of five minutes and two defendants, he said.
    Johnston, 79, has been the Statesboro Municipal Court judge since July, 1991. Before that he was the Ogeechee Judicial Circuit district attorney from 1968 to 1991; and served as the Solicitor of the City Court of Bulloch County (now known as state court.)
   An honor graduate of Statesboro High School Class of 1948, Johnston achieved an A.B. in Chemistry and Biology at Emory University in 1951 before attending the University of Georgia School of Law, from  which he graduated in 1954. Johnston was admitted to the State Bar of Georgia in 1955.
   He practiced with Hatcher Law Firm in Columbus from 1955-1961; then entered private practice in 1961, working until 1968, when he became district attorney.
   Johnston has also served as a member, secretary and vice chairman for the Georgia Board of Public Safety (1972-1991); and member and chairman for the Georgia Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (1974-1991). In 1990, Johnston was named "Man of the Decade" for criminal justice for the state of Georgia.
    Johnston is married to Jan Thomas Johnston and the couple has four adult children: Mary Day Johnston Widner, Thornton Johnston, Jan Johnston Moore and Jim Johnston.
   He is currently a member of the Statesboro First United Methodist Church and has served in the past as vice chairman of the Administrative Board, choir leader, and lay speaker in the Southern Conference; Sunday School leader and speaker. Johnston is also currently president of the Bulloch County Methodist Men's Club.
    As he looked back on his career, Johnston said "I would not change a day or an hour. I'm one of the luckiest men I can think of."
    Keith Barber, a Statesboro attorney, said "I really enjoyed working with Judge Johnston. I'll miss his wit and wisdom. He treated everybody's daughter like his own daughter, and everybody's son like his own son when they came before him. I don't know if they appreciated it at the time, but later on in life, they will.
    "I will miss him, but I know he is just a phone call away," he said. "He made the punishment fit the person so it wouldn't ruin their lives forever."

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