Woodward to retire as Juvenile Court judge; fired gun in courthouse office earlier this year

Philip Woodward

After a little more than two years on the bench, Juvenile Court Judge Philip Woodward has announced his retirement, effective Sept. 13.

"This is to inform you that I have decided to retire as Chief Juvenile Court Judge of the Conasauga Circuit in order to spend more time with my family and pursue other interests," Woodward wrote in an Aug. 21 letter to Gov. Brian Kemp. "The effective date of my retirement is Sept. 13, 2019. I have thoroughly enjoyed my work as a Juvenile Court judge and thank you for the opportunity to do so."

Woodward did not immediately return a telephone call at his office on Friday.

The Juvenile Court judge is appointed by the four Superior Court judges of the Conasauga Judicial Circuit, which includes Whitfield and Murray counties. They have already begun advertising for someone to fill Woodward's unexpired term.

The ad seeks an attorney who is at least 30, has been a citizen of Georgia for at least three years and who has practiced law at least five years. The deadline for applications is Oct. 11.

"After the applications are in, we will meet to go through them and then schedule interviews," said Chief Judge William Boyett.

He said he did not have a firm timetable for when a new Juvenile Court judge might be appointed.

Dalton attorney Jason Souther serves as associate Juvenile Court judge.

"I would hope he will be able to fill in until we have selected a new judge," said Boyett. "But I haven't had a chance to talk to him yet to make sure."

Boyett said he was surprised when Woodward told him he was retiring.

On March 13, Woodward fired a gun in his office in the Whitfield County Courthouse, according to a sheriff's office incident report.

Asked if that incident played a role in Woodward's decision to retire, Boyett said he did not know.

According to the incident report, around 3:30 p.m. on March 13 a detective was sent to Whitfield County Juvenile Court concerning the discharge of a firearm. The detective was met by a deputy who told him the only people present at the time of the incident were employees, and that no members of the public had been in the Juvenile Court area or the lobby.

The report said the detective next met with Woodward, who said "he was sitting behind his desk with his new Glock 43X."

The report said Woodward told the detective "that he took out the magazine and racked the gun to verify that it was empty. He advised that he put the magazine back in and must have racked it and chambered a round."

Woodward told the detective "that he had (the gun) pointing towards the floor under his desk and squeezed the trigger and the gun discharged."

The report said Woodward told the detective "that he was just getting a feel for the gun" and that he "secured the gun in his vehicle."

The detective photographed the floor and the underside of the desk "where there was damage to the floor, carpet and wood of the underside of the desk."

"Judge Woodward advised (the detective) that the projectile was located behind him by the base of the window on the floor," the report said. "While speaking with Woodward, he advised that he is familiar with guns."

The detective collected the spent round and the spent shell casing.

The report said according to interviews with court personnel, Woodward met with court employees the next day, apologized and "stated that he would not have any more guns in the office."

One employee said Woodward said "he was upset with himself over the incident."

One employee said that after hearing a loud noise, "she believed that someone had shot the judge through the window."

One employee said an employee "had requested for her desk to be moved and does not want her back to the judge's office." The employee said the night of the incident, "there were many text messages between the employees." Another employee said the staff went to lunch where they were "allowed ... to vent."

The report said the detective asked an employee if she believed she worked in a safe environment. The employee told the detective she had felt that way "but now questions the safety of the office" and that "she still feels that Judge Woodward`s decision making during this incident were bad even after having received an apology from Judge Woodward."

The report said the case was "administratively closed."

The four Superior Court judges named Woodward Juvenile Court judge in May 2017 after then-Judge Connie Blaylock announced her retirement after nearly 21 years.

Woodward had been practicing law in north Georgia since 1987. He had previously served as judge of Varnell Municipal Court for 14 years and of the Tunnel Hill Municipal Court for 19 years.

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