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Jimmy Franklin's labor of love
Practicing since 1966, Statesboro attorney has no plans to retire
In a conference room in the building that bears his name on Siebald Street in downtown Statesboro, Jimmy Franklin talks about his life in the law. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

Statesboro native Jimmy Franklin has been practicing law since 1966. While his expertise is mainly as a trial attorney for civil matters, Franklin recalled a criminal case he tried early in his career that he thinks about with a smile from time to time.

“We were representing a bartender who had a good claim of self-defense when he shot and killed a customer who came at him with a knife,” Franklin said. “But there was one issue I needed for him to clarify for me. I asked him: ‘I know the customer had a knife but how do I explain to a jury why you shot him nine times?’ He said, ‘Well, if you had seen the crazed look in his eye as he was coming at me, I just kept shooting till he stopped wigglin.’ The way he said ‘wigglin’ has always stuck with me.”

Like most cases he’s tried, Franklin won that one.

The still-prominent trial lawyer attributes his success to “hard work and liking what you’re doing.” And that’s a good thing because the seventy-nine-year old Franklin has no immediate plans for retirement.

“What would I do? I like to fish, but I don’t play golf and no longer play tennis.”

Plus, he has no desire to watch lawyer shows on television.

Family and friends most likely recognized that Franklin was destined to go places at an early age.

By the time he was a junior in high school, Franklin moved to Washington, D.C., to work as a page for Congressman Prince Preston.

Franklin felt on top of the world as a page – well, on top of the Capitol, at least.

“One of my jobs as page was to climb through a trap door in the Capitol every morning to raise the flag when the House of Representatives went into session,” Franklin said. “We had to walk out on the roof, and sometimes it was icy and could be treacherous.”

Franklin had the option to graduate with his fellow pages in D.C., but he chose to walk with the students he’d gone to school with since third grade at Statesboro High School when his family moved to town from a farm in Clito. After graduating, Franklin enrolled in the engineering program at Georgia Tech.

Click here to watch a video of Jimmy Franklin discussing his career.

Choosing law

“When I got further along at Tech, I liked the courses and especially enjoyed history. I made A’s easily and took all I could to keep my GPA up. With a year left in my industrial engineering degree program, I made the decision to go to law school.

“It was more of an evolution process – not a light bulb experience. I thought I was better suited for law than engineering.”

Also, Franklin said that the analytical approach to solving problems that he had studied for years as an engineer helped prepare him for future litigation work.

“I took my last final on Friday at Georgia Tech and started law school the following Monday,” Franklin said.

Graduating from the University of Georgia School of Law in 1964, Franklin spent two years in the Army before returning to Statesboro.

Franklin’s first attorney experience in Statesboro was as an associate and partner in the office of Allen, Edenfield, Brown and Franklin, from 1966-1974. From 1974 until the present, Franklin has served as the senior partner in what became Franklin, Taulbee, Rushing, Snipes and Marsh, LLC.

Jimmy Franklin may have helped build a law firm from a one-person firm to the largest firm in Statesboro, but his pride comes from the people he’s served over the years.

“I never had any doubt that I made the right decision. I have thoroughly enjoyed practicing law,” Franklin said.

“When someone is hurt by someone’s negligence, when you help them, you’ve got a tangible yardstick to see how far you’ve brought them. When people are down and out and in a lot of trouble, when we help them, we have that tangible measuring device.

“We represent people who are sometimes horribly injured, being opposed by large insurance companies or corporations, and our client is at a real disadvantage. Sometimes all they have is the lawyer representing them. I’ve represented so many people that had nobody else to crawl in the ring for them.”

A stand-out case

Franklin described a case he recalled vividly.

“There was a migrant worker killed in the 80s in a car wreck, and we represented his mother, a sort of matriarch for a larger group of migrant workers in the area. We offered to settle for $25,000, but the insurance company refused.”

Jimmy Franklin won the case by proving – after finding mud in the undercarriage of the vehicle – that officials and parties involved misrepresented the truth about the fault of the driver who crossed the center line and hit his client’s vehicle head-on. The well-equipped lawyer also had a small spiral notebook of wages the deceased worker recorded faithfully, and in the end, the plaintiff was awarded $500,000.

And while it’s triumphs such as that one that give Franklin his greatest sense of pride, his resume boasts of extensive accomplishments and successes.

Among the lengthy list:

    He was recognized by Atlanta Magazine and Law and Politics Magazine as one of Georgia’s “Super Lawyers.”

    He received the Distinguished Service Scroll Award from the UGA Law School Alumni Association.

    He served as president, president-elect and secretary of the State Bar of Georgia. The Georgia Supreme Court recognized Franklin’s work with its highest award – the Americus Curiae Award.

    Franklin served on the Federal Judicial Screening Panel and on the Governor’s Judicial Nominating Commission.

    Former President George H.W. Bush nominated Franklin to the federal bench, though his nomination was not voted through before the next election. Franklin was also on Governor Sonny Perdue’s short list to fill a vacancy on the Georgia Supreme Court.

    The busy attorney has found time to serve in the community, too, in such organizations as the Statesboro Jaycees, Statesboro Rotary Club and Statesboro Bulloch County Chamber of Commerce.

Enjoying his family

Despite building a successful law practice and professional and civic resume, Jimmy Franklin always made time for his family.

Married to Statesboro native Faye Foy Smith Franklin, a longtime teacher at Mattie Lively Elementary School, the couple has two daughters, Rebecca and Julie, and two grandsons, Ronnie Rosales and JR Harris and granddaughter Ava Grace Harris.

Rebecca and her husband, Jeff, reside in Savannah and both are trial lawyers. Rebecca says that while other kids were playing house or playing school, she played “court,” and of course, her dad was the “judge.” Choosing to do plaintiffs’ work like her dad came easily for Rebecca because she grew up watching him enjoy his job.

“It wasn’t uncommon for Dad to be called on a Sunday night by clients for help in some unrelated matter,” she said. “And Dad would always answer the phone and listen to their problems. Many of those clients were folks who were injured because of the negligence of a corporation such as a manufacturer of defective products.”

Those memories guided her career path, but it wasn’t until law school that she truly developed an appreciation for her dad’s commitment to helping individuals in such cases.

Daughter Julie Franklin, who is an underwriter with Synovus/Sea Island Bank said, “Dad’s passion for serving his clients and seeking justice for the ‘underdog’ has inspired me throughout my life to care about others and to advocate for those who can’t advocate for themselves. He genuinely cares about the well-being of those he represents.

“When it comes to family, my dad taught us how to do it right. He always put us first, no matter what. As busy as work would keep him, he was never too busy to take our phone calls.”

Longtime friend, Judge George Carley, summed up Jimmy Franklin’s personal and professional life: “Jimmy Franklin is a devoted family man, with two daughters and a wonderful wife. He is always honest and straightforward and seeking to do what is best.”

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