Western Circuit Bar commemorates judges at the State Court of Athens

ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — When State Court Judge Kent Lawrence died in March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic had forced the cancellation of traditional funeral services.

On Monday, the Western Circuit Bar Association in Athens hosted a belated memorial service luncheon for the longtime Clarke County State Court judge who established Georgia’s first DUI/drug court.

Several family members, including his wife Karlene Lawrence, attended the luncheon, where State Court Justice Charles Auslander and Supreme Court Justice Lawton Stephens commemorated Lawrence’s legacy in Athens.

Many University of Georgia football fans remember Lawrence as a star wide receiver.

“If you were a kid growing up in Athens, Georgia in the 1960s, Kent Lawrence was a household name,” Stephens said of the man who became his close friend during his time in the legal department.

But after Lawrence’s playing days in college and the NFL, he returned to Athens to pursue a master’s degree while working for the UGA Police Department. In 1974, he became the first chief of police for the newly formed Clarke County Police Department, according to Auslander, who described Lawrence’s rise to a seat on the bench, where he was appointed to the magistrate’s office in 1986.

“He realized he had a true love for the law and decided to attend law school while working full-time,” Auslander said.

But during his work in law enforcement and then as an attorney, Auslander said Lawrence “got tired of seeing the same people with substance abuse problems in front of him” with no solution offered other than more jail time.

In 2000, Lawrence founded the first DUI court, but without such a program in Georgia, he traveled to New York, Michigan and New Mexico to study how similar courts work, according to Auslander.

Today, the court has 17 parole officers overseeing more than 3,000 people, and Lawrence has also set up a drug lab that can provide drug test results in an hour.

“He wasn’t an average person. He wasn’t your average lawyer. He wasn’t your average judge. He didn’t accept the status quo,” Auslander said, adding, “He paved a path that we are now following.”

Stephens recalled attending the 1966 UGA game against Georgia Tech at age 12, which went undefeated. He watched Lawrence go out to return a punt.

“He took the punt back 75 yards for a touchdown and we beat Tech and ruined their unbeaten season,” Stephens said.

Lawrence was a gifted athlete, “but you’d never know if you saw him play golf,” Stephens joked as he flattened good-natured barbs that good friends laughingly shared.

“I will miss your compassion for the misfits and the people struggling in life, who came to your court seeking justice and found it,” he said.

“He knew at the end of the day it doesn’t matter how many touchdowns you score. It doesn’t matter how many cases you win. What really matters is how many people you help and how many lives you save. By taking this action, the legacy of Kent Lawrence will never be forgotten,” Stephens said.

Bar Association President Gregory Sowell told the gathering the Georgia Athletic Department established a scholarship endowment for a student athlete pursuing a criminal justice degree. To contribute to the Lawrence Foundation, go to


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