Judge Robbie O'Donnell
I thoroughly enjoyed my sit down with Judge O’Donnell. He’s been a magistrate judge in Georgetown for 38 years. To open the conversation and see where it took us, I started off by asking him how old he was (65 years old), and how long he’s been married (42 years). It didn’t take us anywhere so I asked, “Where are you from?”
“Pennsylvania,” he answered. “And I left there as soon as I could.”
Thinking this would lead to a topic, I said, “Oh! How old were you when you left?”
Laughing, he answered, “I was two.”
And that is why I came to Judge O’Donnell in the first place. Over the years of living here in Georgetown and knowing who he was, meeting and speaking with him, even appearing before him, I have found he has the most delightful sense of humor. If nothing else, Judge O’Donnell is one of the funniest men in town.
We talked a little bit about him growing up as a preacher’s son. He moved around some as his father’s position in the church led him to different places. “You know they say preacher’s children are the worst,” I commented off handedly.
With a mischievous grin he responded, “Yeah. I was a bit of a bad boy myself. Nothing too bad though like drug user or drinker. But, I’ve had my fair share of mishaps growing up. I’m still a church go-er though.”
I learned, through him, of an organization called “Dragon Boat at the Beach.” This is a program for local cancer survivors. Most of the members have either had cancer or know someone who has had it. The members donate their time for their cause and any monies received go to their wellness program. Judge O’Donnell and his wife are very much apart of this organization. “We work out of Pawley’s Island and we row along the local rivers,” he explained. “Our marina is docked in the Waccamaw River but we go other places too.”
Although he’s a judge, and a lawyer, we did try to avoid talking about his job with very little success. He says he has truly enjoyed his career and talked lightly of different subjects that were a bit comical.
Needless to say, I did not have to ask him, as I’ve asked others, to tell me a funny story. He was locked and loaded. The judge went on to share with me about a man who was robbing a mobile home sales lot and was only taking the curtains. “I don’t know why he had this fetish, but the police dubbed him, ‘the serial drapist,’ since that was all he ever stole; the curtains and drapes.”
“Did they ever catch him?” I asked laughing as he told the story.
“Oh yeah, they caught him and he was sentenced for it.”
Judge O‘Donnell snickered a little then said, “Once I had a young lady appear before me for shoplifting and I thought it was funny because she was wearing a T-shirt that said ‘Yeah, I done it!’ She wore it to court.”
We talked about he recusing himself of the bench and he conceded he’s had to do that in the past. Being a judge and resident in this small town for almost 40 years though makes it difficult for him to recuse himself of many cases. If he doesn’t know the people, the people certainly know him. Under the circumstances though, he limits himself to family and people close to him so as to avoid any personal feelings on either side.
The town has recently moved Judge O’Donnell’s courtroom from the courthouse on Screven Street to the new police station on Highmarket. “I think it works out better,” he said of the new location. “In the old building they had to repaint it every so often. You know, every year or so.”
“Why is that?” (You know I had to ask.)
With a laugh he explained, “Because the jurors, in the last row of the jury box, would sometimes rest their head on the wall and whatever oils they used in their hair would leave these big oil stains.”
“They were falling asleep during court?” I asked kind of surprised.
“I imagine they were just resting their heads and not necessarily dozing off. But at any rate, as a result the city had to spend thousands of dollars over and over again through the course of all these years just to repaint the walls. Now, in the new courtroom, there’s plexi-glass so, it doesn’t matter; a little Windex and the problem is solved.”
“I can tell you a story that’s kind of cute,” he offered.
“Okay, tell me a cute story then.” I wasn’t disappointed in my anticipations either.
“I was out jet skiing one day. I kept hearing this flapping noise. I’d turn my head from side-to-side looking to see what was behind me and couldn’t find the source. Finally it dawned on me, it was the loose skin around my neck flapping in the wind!”
“I believe that just made my blog,” I announced laughing.
As I said, he was a real pleasure to sit down and talk with. I thank him appreciatively for participating in the People Of Georgetown segment of my blog. It wouldn’t be the same without him and Georgetown wouldn’t be the same without Judge Robbie O’Donnell either.