By Judge Terrinee L. Gundy, Municipal Court of Atlanta
On March 20, 2015, Judge JaDawnya C. Butler was appointed to the Municipal Court of Atlanta by Mayor Kasim Reed, making her the 9th and one of the youngest judges at the Court. Prior to her appointment, Butler served for more than four years in the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office as a chief senior assistant district attorney in the Community Prosecution, Complex Trial, Public Integrity and Crimes Against Women & Children divisions. Beforehand, Butler started her own boutique practice immediately following law school and served the greater Atlanta community as a solo-practitioner with The Butler Law Group, L.L.C. for five years. Butler is a proud honors graduate of Spelman College where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in English and History. Judge Butler received a Juris Doctorate from the University of Florida, Levin College of Law where she earned the highest grades in several of her classes and spoke at her law school graduation.
Who would you choose as the one person who has impacted your life the greatest?
I am not able to choose just one. Both my maternal and paternal grandmothers had a profound impact on me. They are both deceased now, but their spirits live on inside of me. Ms. Melrose Butler, my paternal grandmother was a housekeeper, minister, mother of six and a widow who successfully raised and sent all of her children to college. Ms. Verna Madere, my maternal grandmother was a paralegal and a mother of five who similarly ensured that her children had the best education and attended college. My maternal grandmother passed just before I was appointed to the bench, and the idea of me becoming a judge brought her to tears. Both of my grandmothers imparted the importance of faith, family and integrity in me. The only thing that I asked for was their personal bibles when they passed, which are amongst my most prized possessions.
What are your life mantra?
I actually have a few:
“Always be kinder than necessary.” J.M. Barry
“Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Luke 6:31
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Philippians 4:6
Maya Angelou said it best, in sum, “[m]y mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.”
When did you decide that you wanted to be a Judge?
I did not grow up with dreams of becoming a lawyer or a judge, but I have always loved to help others. John Maxwell said “[o]ne of the greatest values of mentors is the ability to see ahead what others cannot see and to help them navigate a course to their own destination.” Through the years, I had the privilege of having a number of lawyers and judges as exceptional mentors. I was inspired by their service, selflessness, dedication to the law and passion for their communities. As a law student, I had the great pleasure of interning for chief justice Leah Ward Sears emeritus and former chief judge of the Georgia Court of Appeals, Judge Herbert E. Phipps. During that time, I met one of my most cherished mentors, Justice Robert Benham, who since then has taught me so much about service and the law. My mentors began to encourage me to become a judge, and I listened.
How has being one of the youngest judges in your Court affected you?
One of my greatest joys and blessings to date has been the privilege of serving as a judge. I am so grateful for the opportunity to give back to the community and profession that I love. I rarely focus on my age in this capacity, but I have often been told that I was too young and would have to wait my turn. However, I choose to follow my heart along with the encouragement of my mentors and went for it! And I’m so glad I did. What I have found since then is that age is not a predictor of knowledge, wisdom or compassion; but a life well, humbly and fully lived is. I credit my parents for this keen insight and exposure. My parents were always honest about what was going on around me, always encouraged me to think about actions and consequences, and ensured that I knew the importance of giving, listening, fairness and always doing what is right. These are all qualities that I use daily on and off of the bench.
Judge Me Not: 10 Questions
Favorite word? Freedom
Least favorite word? Can’t
Champagne or Wine? Depends On The Occasion
Toronto or Trinidad & Tobago? Trinidad & Tobago
Apple Walnut Cobbler or Key Lime Pie? Apple Walnut Cobbler
Fences or Hidden Figures? Hidden Figures
Shops of Buckhead or Ponce City Market? Shops of Buckhead
Chess or Checkers? Chess
New Edition or OutKast? OutKast
Margaret Mitchell House or Historic Oakland Cemetery? Oakland Cemetery