Ozburn gets community service award

Photo by Nate McCullough

Photo by Nate McCullough

COVINGTON -- Superior Court Judge Samuel D. Ozburn is being honored by the Georgia Bar Association for his community service.

Ozburn is a recipient of the Justice Robert Benham Award for Community Service, which honors lawyers and judges who have made outstanding contributions to their communities through volunteerism.

Ozburn was nominated by the Newton County Bar Association, the Covington Kiwanis Club, the local branch of the Salvation Army, the other Superior Court judges of the Alcovy Judicial Circuit and the pastor of his church, Eastridge Community Church.

Ozburn said he wasn't aware of the nomination until he was notified about two weeks ago that he had won the award.

"I am humbled by this whole thing. It's something I was totally not expecting by any stretch of the imagination," he said. "I have really not done anything other than what a lot of people do, just made an effort to help people, make the community better and especially help young people and the legal profession in general."

Assistant District Attorney Buck Levins and Attorney John Strauss wrote nominating letters on behalf of the Newton County Bar Association.

"His presence in the community and his devotion as a citizen and as a man of faith to his community and to the schoolchildren here in Newton County has been really outstanding and is noteworthy," Levins said.

Levins noted that Ozburn instituted a program that allows students to observe court proceedings, tour the courthouse and meet with court officials to learn more about the judicial process. He is also the chief sponsor of the Newton County Mock Trial Program, allowing students to practice inside courtrooms and argue their cases before actual judges.

Ozburn also orchestrated a program to assist Eagle Scout candidates obtain their civil service merit badge through various avenues within the court system and works closely with Scout leaders. He meets with local principals regularly to convey his own concerns about youth and listen to theirs. He is a founding member of a local domestic violence task force.

"I just have so many opportunities as a sitting judge to see young people who have made just tragic mistakes. I feel I can reach some of them before it's too late to let them know the terrible consequences of violating the law in terms of jail and having a criminal record that keeps them from getting a good job ... I just feel it's important to help these young people," Ozburn said. "Unfortunately I'm seeing second generations of people. People I represented (as a lawyer), some of their children are coming through. Quite often those kids never have a chance. They are never taught anything better. They see it as a way of life. I guess I feel like being in this position, I don't want to just sentence people. I could sit back and do that, but I feel like if I can reach them and be proactive and keep them from ever getting to the point where they're before me, they can be better citizens and take care of their families and break the cycle."

Ozburn has been involved with the Kiwanis Club of Covington for more than 30 years and is a past president. He is a founding member of the local chapter of the Salvation Army and has served on that board of directors for nearly 30 years. Prior to becoming a judge, Ozburn donated legal services to the agency.

Ozburn is also an elder, Sunday School teacher and Bible study leader at Eastridge Community Church.

"One might think that a person in Judge Ozburn's position, who deals with criminals every day, would become cynical. On the contrary, he genuinely cares for the people who come before him daily," said Scott Moore, senior pastor at Eastridge, in his nominating letter. "Because of the obvious conflict of interest, he cannot go to the prison to console the inmates that he has charged to be there, but his influence does find its way into the prison. During the year he leads a team of volunteers to assemble and deliver care packages to all 650 inmates. Judge Ozburn cares enough to lead this team, even though he never gets to see the looks on the faces of grateful inmates."

Ozburn also initiated a program where all criminal defendants placed on probation are ordered to complete their GED or a literacy program. He helped establish the organization now known as Newton County READS.

Ozburn was one of 10 recipients of the Benham Award this year. He will receive the award at a ceremony in February in Atlanta.