Before handing down a sentence or presiding over an inmate's first appearance, Judge Dale Smith would give the accused something to chew on. He'd reach into his stash of Tootsie Rolls and hand one over.
“He’d say something like, ‘I know you're having a bad day, and this is the best I can do right now,’” said the judge's son Jared Smith. “Sure in many ways he was ‘the man,’ you know, but he was very helpful and super friendly.”
And when the chief magistrate of Stephens County was unavailable and another magistrate had to sit in for him, his office staff made sure the deputy judges had a handful of Tootsie Rolls.
“I don't know why he did it, but when I sat in for him, I did it, too” said deputy magistrate David “Chip” Prather, with a laugh. “I made sure I told them the candy was from the upper judge.”
Dale Patrick Smith, of Toccoa, died suddenly Saturday after experiencing a massive heart attack while tending to animals on his farm. He was 58.
A funeral service is planned for 3 p.m. Tuesday at St. Mathias Episcopal Church, Toccoa. A private burial, with military honors, will follow. Whitlock Mortuary is in charge of the arrangements.
Born in Ohio and raised in Warner Robins, Judge Smith’s road to the bench was not a traditional path. He sought other degrees before he enrolled in law school, with the hope of becoming a better attorney, his son said.
Judge Smith earned a master's degree in public administration and a doctorate in political science from the University of Georgia, where he also got his law degree. He was first elected to the bench in Stephens County in 1988 and was sworn in to office the following January. Jared Smith said his father was the first Republican elected to that post, in the northeast Georgia county.
Judge Smith appointed two deputy magistrates when he took office, including Judge Prather, the first African-American magistrate in Stephens County.
At the time of his death, Judge Smith was serving his sixth four-year term and planned to run for re-election in November, his son said.
Judge Smith’s role in Stephens County wasn’t just to uphold the law, but also to live by example, said Judge Prather, also a friend of 30 years.
“With Dale, the truth came first,” said Judge Prather. “Whether you loved him or liked him, or not, you had to say he was honest, and I think everybody respected him for that.”
The duo of Smith and Prather, and their families, did a lot of things together, including dinner on Wednesday nights.
The two also traveled together. One road trip in particular, sticks out in Judge Prather’s mind. The plan was to drop Judge Prather’s son off at medical school in Buffalo, N.Y. Once they were done, the men were to head back to Georgia, but Judge Smith had a different idea.
“He said he wanted to go over to Niagara Falls, and I ask him why and he says, ‘I want to get a refrigerator magnet,’” Judge Prather said, starting to laugh. “So we get to the Canadian border and the border patrol officer looks at us in the vehicle, we have no luggage, we’re a black man and a white man crossing into Canada, and he says, ‘What’s your business in Canada?’ And what does Dale say but, “I want to get a refrigerator magnet.’ Well, that border patrol officer made us pull over. But like I said, for Dale, the truth came first.”
In addition to his son, Judge Smith is also survived by his wife, Lynne Smith; and mother, Betty Smith, both of Toccoa.
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