News 12 at 6 o'clock, January 25, 2008
AUGUSTA, Ga--- A tough but compassionate superior court judge is calling it quits. Duncan Wheale fought his share of battles over the years. Battles to protect our children and make the court system better
He's the kind of judge you'd find standing in a pulpit to celebrate M.L.K. and he's the kind of judge you'd find putting pinwheels in the grass to draw attention to child abuse. Duncan Wheale's courtroom, filled with drawings, reflects his concern for kids. He has a wall full of memories.
"Each one is a different story," the judge told News 12's Richard Rogers, "and all these represent happy stories- happy endings to what use to be sad stories at one time in their lives."
Since announcing his retirement- judge Wheale is doing a little reflecting. He sat down recently to talk about his years on the bench, his battle with cancer, and what's next.
"People my age are on the back nine," Wheale said, we just don't know which hole we're on."
Rogers- "So then is your health the reason for your retirement?
Wheale- "Health is a big reason, I am worn out from fighting the battles."
He's talking about a battle among judges to reorganize a court system that was in disarray when he took the bench.
"Well, nobody even knew how many cases we had pending. Once we went to case assignments, we found we had thousands of cases many which had never been called for trial."
Judge Wheale challenged a legal system that wasn't working and he paid a price. He was investigated by a special prosecutor who found nothing to prosecute. It all reminded Duncan Wheale of something he heard about Augusta years before.
"Before I came to Augusta, I worked for a law firm in Atlanta. A senior partner took me aside and told me it was one of the most corrupt cities in Georgia- and it started with the judges."
And it took a judge to make changes, a fight he'd rather forget. But some memories will never fade away.
Rogers- "Are there cases that will haunt you as you look back?"
Wheale- "I've had several cases where a child has committed suicide- that's a horrible feeling. It haunts you as a judge. Either a child committing suicide or one spouse killing the other spouse. These are probably the worst because you wonder- what could I have done differently."
Rogers- "But sitting in that chair- you never know the whole story."
Wheale- "You don't know. And you have people sitting at each of these tables telling you two different stories- not even a gray area- just black and white and you have to be the judge. Who's telling the truth- and who's not?"
Its the dilemma every judge faces--- every day. But for this judge--- time is running out. His days are numbered as he spends his final year on the bench. He says the toughest part is leaving so many friends behind.
After the surgery, his cancer is in remission. Judge Wheale and his wife Carolyn are heading to Charleston. He says he wants to give something back to the school that gave him so much, so he's going to work for the Citadel.
He'll be mentoring students and advising the president and he says he won't accept a salary for doing it.