06/06/10 — A robe passes from one Jones to another

View Archive

A robe passes from one Jones to another

By Steve Herring
Published in News on June 6, 2010 1:50 AM

Full Size

Superior Court Judge Arnold Jones II looks over information during one of his court sessions. Jones is the son of longtime Judge Arnold Jones, one of the state's last lay judges.

Almost from the moment the late District Court Judge Arnold Jones took the bench to begin his career, he had a shadow -- his son, Arnold Jones II.

"My daddy was elected as District Court judge when I was 8 years old, and so, from the age of 8 right on through, I liked to follow my daddy around wherever he went," his son said.

So, today, when Superior Court Judge Arnold Jones II puts on the robe his father wore all those years ago, he thinks not just of the duties he is about to perform, but of the man who gave him the compass he uses personally and professionally.

"My father was truly one of a kind," he said. "He combined so many positive traits -- love for his Lord, love for his wife and children. He was a tireless worker and enjoyed life in general, and he was always motivated to do things the only way he knew -- the right way."

Arnold Jones taught his son many lessons when they would spend time together.

"So many times, not only growing up, but also after I was an adult, my daddy and I would go for walks or drives and during these times, we talked about ... everything," Jones said.

Those talks included everything from personal problems and business decisions to advice passed from one generation to another about duty and honor.

And his father's words and those lessons are what he carries with him when he enters the courtroom, Jones said -- along with the legacy of a man who had the respect and admiration of the community he served.

Jones' father served as a lay District Court judge in the 8th Judicial District for 24 years and was its last lay Superior Court judge from 1998 until 2000.

The younger Jones did not set out to be a judge, or even to return to his native Wayne County once he completed his undergraduate degree at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. But after weighing his options, he headed off to Wake Forest University Law School and then came home and started practicing law.

He never argued a case before his father, but he did watch him -- how he handled the courtroom, the decorum he required from those who appeared before him. Jones said he runs his own courtroom that same way, from demanding appropriate dress and promptness for attorneys and court staff, to the respect he gives to those who have business before the court.

"I also have had an advantage that no other lawyer in Wayne County has ever had. I had the opportunity to watch and learn from the very best."

And that means challenging himself as well.

Jones said he catches himself repeating things his father would have done or said.

"When those situations occur, I have an inward and sometimes, yes, an outward smile," he said. "Every day when I hold court, like my father, I pray I will do the right things, which are the very things the people of this county expected from my father, and now, from me. I work hard and do my very best to serve my community, state, and country. Being Wayne County's senior resident Superior Court judge is a tremendous responsibility, and I appreciate this privilege and opportunity."

Jones began his law practice in 1991. He had been asked over the years to run for judge, but turned down the opportunities for personal reasons -- mostly his young children.

In 2008, he decided to throw his hat into the ring.

While he enjoys serving as judge, Jones said he misses some aspects of being a lawyer. But being a judge carries its own set of challenges -- and the chance to make a difference.

"That satisfaction, knowing that at the end of the day we have done our job and done it right, that is a good feeling and you feel like you have done something to improve the lives of the people in this county," he said.

The cases that come before Jones are, for the most part serious -- rape, murder or trafficking in drugs. Main-taining objectivity is critical, he said, even when the cases are difficult to hear.

"I think sometime the general public might see this individual is charged with that (crime) and the general public might come up with ideas one way or another," he said. "I cannot do that. I have got to treat each person, each case, on a neutral basis. That is something I have to remember -- and make myself do it in every case."

Before he passes a sentence, especially, Jones said he has to look at every nuance of a case -- and find a just resolution. And that can be tough, he added.

"I'm looking out in the audience and I see family members of people charged. I see family members of victims. That is all considered when they express their grief, sorrow or concern about a case. I always remember this, everybody who comes into the courtroom is somebody's child. I don't care if you are the victim, the defendant, you are somebody's child. Somebody cares about that person.

"I believe I am very human in that respect. That part is very challenging and it does mentally weigh on you."

So there are times when the judge has to set aside the robe -- and the pressure and thoughts that accompany the decisions he must make, Jones said.

"I think that as a judge that is something that we all need to do, balance your life. You have your work that is very consuming, but spend time with your family. Spend time with your Lord and Savior. Spend time exercising your body, eat right. All of those things."

Jones said he has a lot of different interests -- from his church, Stoney Creek Free Will Baptist, and music to his love of sports.

"I enjoy the New York Yankees," he said. "I went to a fantasy camp and played ball with the Yankees and got to meet a lot of their current players and retired players."

And, of course, he is a Carolina basketball fan.

But even with all of that, he remembers what is most important in his life, his family -- another of the lessons his father taught him, Jones said.

"I think the best release I have is I go home at the end of the day and my kids and my wife smile real big. I get good hugs, then we go out in the yard and spend time."

Jones said he is thankful of all of his life experiences, even harvesting tobacco -- adding that they are a part of the package.

"You need life experiences as well as knowledge of the law to be able to really do this job and do the best it can be done," he said.

And that also includes trying to see the person -- not just the charge.

So when a man or woman comes in and looks respectful, expresses remorse and has made an effort to turn his or her life around, Jones notices.

"That tells me they weren't waiting until they got to court to miraculously change," he said. "They made changes before they got to me. You see that and sometimes you can tell by the way somebody presents themselves, what they say, the tone in which they say it."

Part of his job is to stop crime and to motivate citizens not to appear back in his court. He has counted on community-based programs -- and nontraditional sentences -- to get the message across.

"It is expensive to put people in prison," Jones said. "Some people need to be in prison. I would like, and I am hoping that as budget issues ease, we would have some more creative expansive community-based programs of punishment.

"Something I have started doing, I am ordering people to clean up trash along the roads. The reason I am doing that is twofold. No. 1, I think our highways and roads here in Wayne County need some cleaning up. No. 2, we have these offenders up here and I am thinking a little hard work along the highways and roads might get them to thinking, 'I don't want to be back up there at that courthouse.'"

More crimes are being committed than ever before, Jones said, adding that he wants to be part of the reason potential offenders think twice before breaking the rules.

"When word gets out Judge Jones is making people pick up trash along the roads, maybe people will start thinking about it before they commit these acts, what they are doing and the ramifications and effect it is going to have on their lives," he said.

Since structured sentencing became law in 1995, judges have had to adhere to prescribed punishments, but even then there remains some leeway.

"Basically the lower level felonies, the Class I felonies, unless you are a multi-repeat offender, you are going to get some type of probationary sentence," Jones said.

That's where assigning a task like picking up trash can leave an impression, he said. He also asks offenders about their employment status.

"If they have a job, I make it a condition of probation that they keep a job. If they violate that, they could have their probation revoked and their suspended sentence activated. If they don't have job, I order that they perform community service or that they get a job. I follow that by saying you can either work for free or work for pay and I hope that you will work for pay."

Jones said he has tried to "creatively place" directives in judgments that get people working. That is especially true for young offenders, he said.

"I think if we can get young people working, it will occupy their time better than other things that may have put them in court," he said. "Also, if I see a young person who hasn't gotten their education, I make them get their education. I will always say that is something they cannot take away from you."

Jones said he tries to be creative when the statutes allow -- not only to prevent future transgressions, but also to change the attitude the person has about him or herself.

"I am taking what the law says we have and I am trying to look at avenues within that prescription that I have to help individuals and our community both at the same time. I believe it can work."

He has worked with some churches and mentoring groups and has spoken to a man willing to give his time to mentor young men who lack a father figure. He knows from his own experience just how valuable that is.

"I was blessed to have the father figure that I had. I would not be the man I am today without the mother and father I had in my life. If there are people in the community, and they are willing to reach out a hand to help young people by mentoring, I am very interested in that."

Jones said he has a lot more to do -- and a lot more legacy to live up to. It is a calling of sorts -- the destiny of that little boy running around a courthouse and learning about life from a father whose day job included a long black robe.

It is a job he hopes he will do as well and as long as his father.

"I look forward to coming to work each day," Jones said. "This an eight-year term. I run again in 2016, and I am going ahead and telling you, I am running in 2016 if the good Lord will allow me to. I plan to do this job as long as the people of Wayne County will allow me to do it."