Many in the community mourn the death of Judge J. Lane Johnston, former municipal judge for Statesboro. At age 81, Johnston passed away Saturday after a long battle with Parkinson’s Disease.
Johnston served for almost 20 years as Statesboro’s municipal court judge, but before that, he was the first solicitor general for Bulloch County. That position later became the post of district attorney for the Ogeechee Judicial Circuit, consisting of Bulloch, Jenkins, Screven and Effingham counties.
“Lane Johnston was a wonderful person, a good friend of mine and an
excellent DA,” said former Superior Court Judge Faye Sanders Martin. “He had a great sense of humor, and told a lot of funny stories. I considered him a very dear friend of mine.”
A graduate of the University of Georgia law school, Johnston passed the bar and began practicing law with the Hatcher law firm in Columbus. It was there he met his wife, Jan Thomas.
After their marriage in 1968, they moved to his hometown, Statesboro, where Johnston established a private law practice. Soon thereafter he was named Bulloch County’s solicitor general. He was a very well liked pillar of the community.
“Lane Johnston was a true public servant,” said former Statesboro mayor Bill Hatcher. “He served the community as district attorney and then 19 years as municipal judge. He served with distinction, always weighing the law and the welfare of the persons before him as well as the good of all the citizens of Statesboro.”
In 1974, the governor appointed Johnston to the Georgia Board of Public Safety. During his 17-year tenure on the board, he served as secretary and vice chairman. He was also a member of Georgia's Criminal Justice Coordinating Council for 17 years, serving as its chairman for a portion of that time.
In 1990, Johnston was named Georgia’s “Man of the Decade in Criminal Justice.” A year later, he retired as district attorney and was appointed municipal court judge for the city of Statesboro. He also served as municipal court judge for the cities of Portal, Millen and Register.
During a retirement party in 2009, Johnston enjoyed himself as numerous citizens and public figures came to pay their respects. While at the celebration, current Ogeechee Judicial Circuit District Attorney Richard Mallard sang Johnston’s praises calling Johnston "Chief Bigheart" as he noted the judge's penchant for being kind, yet commanding, in his sentencing.
Former Statesboro police Chief Stan York also praised Johnston during the event.
"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."
Johnston also spoke at his retirement party over two years ago.
"I guess it's time to say goodbye," he told the crowd, explaining some of the challenges of Parkinson's disease. Always known to love the community, he grew emotional as he expressed his gratitude for being honored.
"I have literally dedicated my life to public service," he said. "I have so many memories."
Johnston was an avid pianist and loved the outdoors, particularly golf and fishing. He was a member of the Statesboro Rotary Club, served on the administrative board of the First United Methodist Church, and was a proud member of the Kappa Alpha Order.
Johnston was father to four adult children - Mary Day Johnston Widner, Thornton Johnston, Jan Johnston Moore and Jim Johnston.
He was a member of the Statesboro First United Methodist Church and 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.
During his retirement gathering, he said "I would not change a day or an hour. I'm one of the luckiest men I can think of."
Funeral services for Johnston will be held at the First United Methodist Church of Statesboro today at 2 p.m.
Interment will follow at Eastside Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that contributions be made to Ogeechee Area Hospice or to the building fund of the First United Methodist Church.
Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at (912) 489-9414.