Chuck Williams: Judge Rumer is fairness personified

April 15, 2013 

Judge Rumer is fairness personified

Look in Bill Rumer's eyes and you see fairness.

Spend a few minutes talking to him, and you hear the voice of fairness.

That's exactly what you want from a man in Rumer's position. He is one of six Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit Superior Court judges. In Muscogee County, Rumer and his colleagues can take your money, children and freedom. It is an awesome power and heavy responsibility.

It is a job for those fair to the core.

Rumer spent 35 years practicing primarily family law in Columbus. Much of that time, he wanted to be on the bench, and he made no secret of it. He lost elections and ended up a bridesmaid in the politically charged gubernatorial appointment process.

Many folks would have said it wasn't to be, finished out a distinguished legal career -- and headed to the nearest golf course.

Not Rumer.

In July 2010, Rumer was finally selected by then-Gov. Sonny Perdue to fill the seat vacated by Robert Johnston's abrupt retirement during a judicial misconduct investigation. The contrast between Rumer and Johnston could not be more clear.

Johnston let cases drag on for years, missed or rescheduled critical hearings and was battling constant health problems that led to his death about a year after he left the bench. Rumer works hard, pushes cases and does the job he is paid more than $120,000 to do. In his spare time, he is a high school football official, another outlet for his fairness.

In 2012, Rumer was elected without opposition to a four-year term. This week, he is sitting in for a recused Georgia Supreme Court justice, just another nod to Rumer's judicial qualifications.

You want to know what kind of judge Bill Rumer is, look at his 2012 ruling in a case where the Columbus Board of Tax Assessors sued Gunby Garrard over a Green Island Hills property tax dispute in which Garrard had won an appeal to the Board of Equalization.

Rumer sided with the property owner, and in a strongly and plainly worded opinion, he outlined how the local tax assessor's office had appraised Garrard's property in violation of state law. He chided that office for ignoring the economic downturn. There was no appeal, and when it was over, Rumer awarded Garrard more than $160,000 in attorney fees.

Some saw it as just a judge taking care of a prominent Columbus family. Others saw it as a judge standing up to government.

Georgia State University School of Law professor Jack Williams said Rumer should be considered "a hero" for his ruling and the decision to award attorneys' fees in the Garrard case.

"It is easy for a judge to rule with the taxpayer, then not award the fees," Williams said. "If this went unchecked, we would be back in the old days where the government had the greater advantage. They could just sit back and challenge all of these in court. … It took courage for the judge to stand up and say, 'Not in my court, not in my system.'"

Fair enough.

Chuck Williams, senior editor for content, chwilliams@ledger-enquirer.com.

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