Judge Hatchett talks about creating change

ajjohnson@ledger-enquirer.comSeptember 28, 2013 

Judge Glenda Hatchett didn't want to be just another TV personality. She hoped she could change lives.

So when Sony Pictures approached her about launching the "Judge Hatchett Show," she negotiated to develop the programs herself.

Now 13 years later, Hatchett has no regrets. She believes that with her no-nonsence approach, she helped families through youth intervention programs and paternity tests. The two-time Emmy nominated show taped from 2000 to 2008 and is now a syndicated program.

"I'm very proud of the work we've done," she said in an interview last week from Atlanta. "I developed the show, which is consistent with who I am and what I believe in."

Hatchett will come to Columbus Saturday as keynote speaker for the Urban League of Columbus' 17th Annual Equal Opportunity Day Dinner. The black-tie event will be held at the Columbus Convention & Trade Center's grand ballroom. It will start with a 6 p.m. reception, followed by dinner at 7 p.m., and then music and dancing. The theme for the night will be "Empowered to Shape Our Future."

Susan Cooper, chairwoman of the Urban League board, said the event will be an opportunity for the community to help rebuild the organization that had been inactive for about a year before reopening its doors in May. She said the league hopes to raise $750,000 this year through the dinner and other activities.

"We are delighted Judge Hatchett has agreed to deliver the keynote address, for she understands the importance of serving others," Cooper said in a statement. "And, in order for the Urban League of Greater Columbus to serve the needs of the community at large and fulfill our mission, it is imperative that we undertake massive fundraising efforts,"

Hatchett, an Atlanta native, is the former chief presiding judge of the Fulton County Juvenile Court. She said her father, now deceased, is from Troup County and she's familiar with the Columbus area.

Hatchett said traditional organizations such as the Urban League and the National Association for the Advancement for Colored People are still needed in the community, especially in light of the economy, the Trayvon Martin case and a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that gutted the 1965 Voting Rights Act. And she's glad to see the Urban League is getting back on its feet.

"It's important for these organizations to re-educate the community so they have a better understanding of what they do," she said. "So I'm delighted that they asked for me to come for this dinner because I think this is a time for us to reinvigorate this discussion about what the agenda is and how people can get involved, and how people can benefit from the programs."

Hatchett, a 1977 graduate of Emory University School of Law, began her career as a clerk in the U.S. federal courts. She later accepted a position at Delta Air Lines as the company's highest-ranking African-American woman. She served in dual roles as a senior attorney and manager of public relations, supervising global crisis management and media relations for Europe, Asia and the United States. In 1990, she was appointed to the Fulton County court position, becoming the first African-American to serve as chief presiding judge of a state court in Georgia.

These days, Hatchett said she spends her time doing legal commentary for CNN and HLN, working on book projects and speaking around the country. When she comes to Columbus, she will speak about significant issues facing the community and what needs to be done.

"It's a message of taking charge, of really taking an assessment of where we are, of what we need to do in terms of going forward," she said. "I hope people will leave really inspired to think about what each of us could do and what each of us can bring to the community table."

Here are Judge Hatchett's personal views on a variety of issues facing the community. Her comments were edited for length and clarity:

• Crime: I wish I had a magical answer, and more importantly a magical solution. But it's very complicated. In so many of our communities I think there's just despair that's generated by poverty and under-education. People feel trapped in cycles and have turned to crime because they feel there are no other options. And that's a very, very sad commentary. I'm a big proponent of us having strong education systems everywhere and a strong proponent of after-school programs. I think that's a time when a lot of our children are getting into trouble and are being recruited by gang members and thugs. If we can raise our community in terms of education and poverty issues, housing that's stable and safe, people having good jobs to support their families, then we can significantly reduce the problems of drugs and crimes in those areas.

• Trayvon Martin: I was very, very saddened by that. I have two young adult sons, and that could have been my son. In fact, he was all of our sons. And my heart weeps for that situation. George Zimmerman would have never gotten out of the car had he not had a gun. I do think he was the aggressor, and the case was poorly prosecuted. It's just a tragic, tragic situation.

• Stand Your Ground Laws: Florida's Stand Your Ground Law has got to change, and similar legislation around the country. I would suggest that most of us didn't know anything about Stand Your Ground before this case. And so, if there's a silver lining, it has heightened the level of attention to issues. We have to be vigilant and we have to hold Legislatures accountable.

• Deadbeat Dads: The reason I started doing the paternity tests was really this whole thing about accountability and people knowing what their responsibilities are. There are just too many men who are creating children but are not being fathers to these children. So we have children, particularly in the black community, who don't have the input of the parent. Now, do I think that single mothers can raise children successfully? Yes, I do. But I think that by design it's much better if it's a team effort and that fathers bring a certain element to the table that mothers don't have and that's just the order of things.

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