Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit's most experienced judge retiring

Judge Jon "Bo" Wood listens to the opening statements in a case against Thomas Blevins, a former Lakeview Middle School band teacher accused of having an inappropriate relationship with a student, during the first day of trial at the Catoosa County Courthouse on August 11, 2015.

Judge Jon "Bo" Wood is stepping down from the bench.

Wood, a Superior Court judge in the Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit, wrote a letter to Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal earlier this month, announcing his last day of work will be Sept. 30. Wood most recently won a re-election bid in 2014 for another four-year term on the bench.

"It has been an honor and privilege to serve," he wrote in his letter June 3.

Wood, who did not return multiple calls seeking comment, was appointed to the position in 1985 by Gov. Joe Frank Harris. He was 35 years old at the time. A native of Baldwin County, Ga., Wood came to the northwest corner of the state after graduating from the University of Georgia School of Law in 1974.

He started as an assistant district attorney before going into private practice in 1977.

"The Lookout Mountain Circuit has been very fortunate to have a judge of his character, intelligence and ability presiding over cases the last 31 years," said Bryant Henry, Wood's former classmate and law partner. "He'll be missed."

Henry said Wood was a good lawyer and judge because he was thorough. Asked about his personality, Henry described his former partner as "conservative."

"He expects people to do what they're supposed to do," Henry said. "He expects people to be accountable."

From the bench, Wood gained a reputation as a gruff judge who could be short with some lawyers and defendants. But behind the scenes, he could be quite warm with his co-workers, said Melissa Gifford Hise, a Summerville attorney who served as Wood's clerk in 1995-96.

In her position, Hise reviewed court motions, answers to those motions and case law for Wood, giving him a summary of her findings to help him make decisions. She said people in town told her they were scared of the judge. But, she said, he was often gentle with people behind closed doors, even when he needed to criticize them. He wanted them to make sure they didn't take their mistakes personally.

"People saw this mean judge," she said. "And he's really not. He's very nice and very compassionate."

Hise said he also encouraged her in the mid-'90s when she began to create Four Points, a center aimed at reducing domestic violence in North Georgia.

She said Wood liked to talk music, asking co-workers if they had recently purchased a new album and telling them stories about concerts he went to. Hise once traveled to Atlanta with Wood and his wife to attend the Music Midtown festival in Piedmont Park.

As a judge for 31 years, Wood presided over several high-profile cases. In 2004, he oversaw the trial of Donnie Allen Hulett, who was convicted of murdering two brothers who helped clear brush at the Mountain Top Boys Home in Walker County. In 2009, he presided over the case of Sam Parker, the former LaFayette Police Department sergeant convicted of murdering his wife.

The governor will be tasked with appointing Wood's replacement, something he also has to do for the new Catoosa County state court. Don Thompson, a lawyer in Summerville, has expressed interest in Wood's position.

As the most experienced judge in the Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit, Wood also served as chief judge, helping to set the calendar for cases in Catoosa, Chattooga, Dade and Walker counties. It's unclear which of the other three judges - Brian House, Kristina Cook Graham and Ralph Van Pelt Jr. - will inherit that position.

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.