Judge Hairston Takes Office


By Bonita Wilborn

Andrew Hairston was sworn into office on Tuesday, January 15, 2019.  He is one of the three judges in the 9th Judicial Circuit, which covers all of DeKalb and Cherokee Counties. He replaced Judge Randall Cole who recently retired after 44 years of service to the DeKalb County Court System. Hairston said, “Judge Cole, in my opinion, was a great judge. I think one of the most important things about a judge is temperament. A lot of times you can stomach losing a case, if you feel that you have been treated fairly and you’ve been given the opportunity to speak your mind. Judge Cole always let people speak their mind, and when you left, you felt that you had been able to tell him everything you could and then you just had to live with the order, win or lose. I think that’s something very important that I always want to try to do.”
Circuit Judges in DeKalb County handle the felony criminal cases: drug cases (except Marijuana which is a misdemeanor), hard core crimes (murder, rape, burglary) for which they’ll take plea agreements or jury trials, all divorces, civil matters (personal injury cases), and appeals from municipal courts.
Hairston commented, “We run as political candidates, because that’s the way it’s set up, but once you become a judge you have to distance yourself from that. Although I’m a Republican, I want Democrats to feel like they get a fair chance. Judge Cole was a Democrat, but I always felt like I was treated equal and fairly in his courtroom. That’s something that I want to carry on; regardless of political party, economic status, or how popular you are in the community, the law needs to prevail, period”
Hairston went on to say that the issue closest to his heart is the drug issue we have in this area. “If you or someone in your family hasn’t been affected by drug abuse you’re either very lucky, or you live in a bubble,” he said. “Once, Meth was the drug of choice, and we still see a lot of that, but prescription drugs have surpassed Meth. Doctors over prescribe them, people lie to their doctors to get them, and their being sold on the streets. It’s a bad cycle not only for our health, but also for safety and for the economy. A representative at the DeKalb Employment Office told me that 6 out of 10 people fail their drug test, so it’s swiftly becoming difficult to find people that they can put into available jobs.”
We’ve had the “War on Drugs” that was initiated in the 1980s by then President Ronald Reagan, but it hasn’t worked. Hairston continued, “I’m glad to see the shift toward rehabilitation programs, not just court referral, but faith based programs. Courts are beginning to be a lot more open-minded about letting someone go to the Summit in Fort Payne, which is a 12-month program for women. The recidivism rate on those long-term programs is much lower than with the 28-day dry out programs.”
While there is a shortage of long-term treatment facilities, Hairston said the court referral office does a good job at helping get people placed into them, but sometimes a person might have to sit in jail for a couple of months until a bed in a long-term facility is available. The thought on that is that if they’re in jail, they’re not on drugs, they’re not killing anyone, and they’re not stealing anything, so it gives them a chance to sober up and realize the sort of life they’re living if they don’t turn around. “I think that’s very important. Drug cases are something I want to focus on and really try to get to the point to where we’re not just automatically making everyone a convicted felon; we’re giving them the opportunity to turn their life around. If they don’t, then there are consequences. The people that are bringing these drugs into this area from other counties, selling them, and getting people addicted need to be punished according to the law,” Hairston continued. “The rehabilitation programs aren’t for those people; they’re for the ones who have become addicted. The way I see it is if you can cut off the demand, the supply will go elsewhere.”
According to Hairston, when he’s talked with local law enforcement agencies they’ve been very supportive because they’re running out of room in their jails to house addicts. They’re very supportive of getting the addicts some help. So I plan to put forth a lot of work and effort toward that. I think the faith-based programs are excellent. I would never force someone to go there if they disagree with the particular beliefs, but if they’re willing to go those programs really work. They stay on these programs for a full year, they sober up, and it’s just amazing how they can change their life. Eventually I would like the court system to possibly partner with the jobs programs to help these folks get jobs after they are released.”
After quoting the old adage ‘the devil worships on an idle horse’, Hairston said, “We’re not intended to be idle, we’re intended to work. I think hard work is good for the body and good for the mind. So if we can eventually do that, I think it will help a lot.”