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Sober, thriving, hopeful: Retiring judge cites drug court as crowning achievement

December 20, 2018

Despite being one of a handful of local lawyers who’ve argued before the U.S. Supreme Court — and won — retiring Floyd County Superior Court Chief Judge Tami Colston counts establishing a drug court as one of her life’s accomplishments.

Standing before Justice Sandra Day O’Connor 25 years ago, her colleague Bill Lundy said her southern accent “was in full display” but nonetheless “she was bold and terrific” and helped them win the case.

However, her empathy for those before her bench was the defining characteristic those in a retirement party at the Floyd County Administration Building brought up time and time again.

People packed in the large room from all the stages of her varied career Wednesday — the state patrol operator, probation officer, lawyer and then judge.

One person she wanted to thank most, among the many in attendance, was her long-time judicial assistant and drug court coordinator, Chaquita Swann Crawford.

Crawford, along with others, presented Colston with a retirement gift — a map of Allatoona Lake — and the Rome Bar Association presented a donation to the drug court.

Colston was appointed to the post in 2001 by Gov. Roy Barnes after the three sitting Superior Court judges lobbied for a fourth judgeship — citing a case overload.

At that time she was the Floyd County district attorney, just six months into her second term.

“I am delighted to be able to appoint Tami Colston to the Superior Court,” Barnes said at the time. “Her legal experience and commitment to the justice system will serve her well on the bench.”

She was sworn in as the first female judge for the Rome Judicial Circuit and subsequently re-elected to the post, serving over 17 years as a sitting judge.

As part of her time on the bench Colston expanded Floyd County’s accountability court to include a drug court. The voluntary program provides treatment and counseling — along with heavy oversight — in lieu of sentencing. Colston sought and was awarded a grant from the state to establish the accountability court in 2017.

The drug court was the county’s second accountability court. Superior Court Judge Jack Niedrach established a mental health court in 2016.

Two of the drug court’s participants stepped up to the podium to speak, sometimes tearfully, about how the accountability court changed their lives.

One man described himself as sober, thriving and hopeful and said “I want to thank you, Judge Colston, for standing by me, never giving up on me and making me the man I am today.”

Another man described her as a person who would “fight for me even though I didn’t know how to fight for myself.” Today he’s found faith in himself and strength through his wife and two children.

Judge Billy Sparks will be taking over the drug court when Colston leaves.

“She has a wealth of experience and we will dearly miss her,” Sparks said. Niedrach agreed, saying Colston was a pleasure to work with and was always upbeat.

Kay Ann Wetherington was elected in 2018 to fill the seat after Colston announced her retirement and will take on the role in January. Once Colston retires, Floyd County Superior Court Judge Bryant Durham will be chief judge.

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