With attorneys, law enforcement officers and city employees looking on, former Recorder’s Court Judge Michael Cielinski was recognized Friday for 42 years of public service to the Columbus Consolidated Government.
The farewell celebration at the Columbus Marriott came 10 months after Cielinski retired to recover from surgery and nearly three months after the city selected Julius Hunter, a former city councilor, as the new senior Recorder’s Court judge. The court operation has faced restructuring since the city agreed to pay $75,000 to settle a domestic abuse suit in which Cielinski allegedly ordered a woman to pay $150 “victim assessment” authorized by city ordinance to drop a charge against her boyfriend.
Cielinski, who turned 70 on Friday, said he has no regrets over the years in the court that handled misdemeanor traffic cases to felony murder and assaults. “I did what I thought was right,” he said. “Life goes on, and you keep trucking.”
He started working with the city in 1975 and appointed to the Recorder’s Court in 1981. He recalled the court hearing about 70,000 cases a year with his annual salary of $43,846, the lowest in the state. The new salary for the senior judge is now $105,000 a year.
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“I’m grateful for being able to work all these years,” he said, with his left arm in a sling after shoulder surgery. “I haven’t lasted very well. It’s been a good time.”
District 10 Councilor Berry “Skip” Henderson , a candidate for mayor, presented the judge with a plaque for more than four decades of service. He described him as tough and fair.
“What impressed me most is his heart,” Henderson said. “I had an opportunity to work with him in the community . The guy has the biggest heart of any public servant. He actually has been a very good role model. Columbus is going to miss his service.”
Henderson said he will be sought for input and insight when it comes to the court.
John Vasquez, a retired FBI agent and former Columbus police officer, recalled how he told Cielinski to become an attorney while in college although he had planned another profession. Their families lived a few houses from one another. “He is a man of compassion, dignity and honor,” said Vasquez of Macon. “I’m proud to call him my friend.”
On Christmas Eve in the late 1960s, Vasquez said he was serving in Vietnam when his house burned and his children didn’t have any toys for Christmas. Cielinski and other friends went to the store and purchased gifts for them. “Anybody who does that is a friend for life,” he said. “We have that special bond. We are brothers.”
Fred Van Noy has been a friend of the judge since his teenage son appeared in court for a speeding ticket 20 years ago. The judge is known for giving lectures to those who appear in court on serious offenses.
After the teen pleaded guilty, the judge had a question for him. “The judge said, ‘young man, what made you think you could speed on my streets?’ ”
Van Noy’s son went on to serve in the Army and returned home to work at the police department. When the son presented his first case in the court, Cielinski was on the bench. “The judge treated him with the utmost respect and mentored him along,” the father said. “Judge, I wish you the absolute very best.”
Over the years, Cielinski has been a strong supporter of memorials for fallen Georgia Department of Public Safety troopers. He also supports the annual visits by law enforcement during Christmas to the Ronald McDonald House, St. Francis Hospital and Midtown Medical Center.