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 Local News  -   Sunday, February 12, 2006

Quiet judge back in glare of spotlight
Gainesville resident Story now presiding over Campbell's trial

The Times

For The Times

U.S. District Court Judge Richard W. Story is just "Rick" to the folks at home in Gainesville. The 1998 appointee to the bench currently is presiding over the corruption trial of former Atlanta mayor Bill Campbell.

At First United Methodist Church, U.S. District Court Judge Richard W. Story is just "Rick." His anonymity is such that a fellow church member asked if he was related to the judge who is presiding over a high-profile case in Atlanta.

The unassuming and easygoing husband and father is the federal jurist presiding over the trial of former Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell, who is facing charges that include racketeering, bribery and tax evasion.

Story, 52, who has earned a reputation of being patient and even-tempered on the bench, has ruled over his fair share of well-known cases.

Story, who was nominated by former President Bill Clinton, was sworn in as a federal judge eight years ago this week.

While exercising caution not to comment about the Campbell case, he acknowledges that it is another in a growing string of notable cases on his resumÈ.

"I've had a lot of them," Story said.

Those cases include a class-action racial discrimination suit against The Coca-Cola Co.; a suit over prayer before the meetings of the Cobb County Commission; a challenge to a law that eliminates taxes on sales of Bibles and other religious publications; and a rare federal death penalty case.

Story has spent the past 20 years on the bench, including 12 years as a Hall County Superior Court judge. He said that there is more pressure when more visible cases are being heard in his courtroom on the 20th floor of the Richard B. Russell Federal Building, but he is not complaining.

"This is the greatest job in the legal profession," said Story, who commutes to Atlanta each day from his home in North Hall.

His spacious chamber is walled on two sides by glass and faces the northeast. The crystal clear sky yields a view of the downtown Atlanta skyline and beyond it, the outline of the North Georgia mountains.

Just 35 feet down the corridor from his chamber is the oak-paneled courtroom where the Campbell trial is held. Story says that there is still a sense of anticipation when the court is called to order.

"You never know who is waiting out there," he said.

On Wednesday, an FBI agent went over credit card records showing the airline and hotel travel of Campbell and Fred Prewitt, a longtime friend of the former mayor.

Later that day, Marion Brooks, a former television news anchor with WSB-TV in Atlanta, testified about her four-year affair with Campbell.

Friends close by

U.S. Marshal Richard Mecum, a former Hall County sheriff and current Hall resident, has an office a few floors down from Story.

Mecum's relationship with Story goes back to his days an attorney in private practice.

"When I was sheriff, I was sued 70 times in federal court," Mecum said. "The only case I lost was when Rick Story had to fill-in for Julius Hulsey, who was the county attorney."

Mecum laughs when he recalls the case, but clearly has the utmost respect for Story.

"This Campbell case is a big-time trial," Mecum said. "It's interesting to watch him in that environment. He does very well. He weighs things evenly and he does an outstanding job."

Mecum said that Story matured on the Superior Court bench, which prepared him for his federal service.

Story grew up in the small town of Harlem, just outside Augusta. He came to Gainesville out of law school and was hired by the firm of Hulsey, Oliver and Mahar.

"Rick worked primarily with me doing local government work and litigation," said Hulsey, senior partner of the firm. Story joined the firm in 1978 and remained until 1986 when he was appointed to Superior Court by then-Gov. Joe Frank Harris.

"What is so unusual about him is he has such a pleasing personality, yet, he is extremely smart," Hulsey said.

Hulsey said that his former law partner has never lost the common touch.

"He is not suffering from what we call 'robe-itus.' It hasn't gone to his head," he said.

Leads by example

In 1986, Story was sworn in as the youngest Superior Court judge in the state at 33.

At his first swearing-in ceremony, he was introduced by his father, L.F. Story, as "a person anybody would be proud to say is 'my son.'"

Story left his hometown as the salutatorian and STAR student of his high school class. He earned his undergraduate degree at LaGrange College and his law degree at the University of Georgia.

Hall County Superior Court Judge Andy Fuller was district attorney before being named to the bench. He tried numerous cases before Story, including the murder trial of Rudi Lee Bromley, who was convicted in the Sept. 1987 murder of 11-year-old Amy Holman.

"It was the type of case that in Georgia is tried professionally, correctly and efficiently," Fuller said. "It's the kind of case that in California would have lasted six months."

Fuller said the trial stands out as the longest in Hall County history and ended with the jury deciding against sending Bromley to the electric chair. He gave Story high marks for his handling of the trial.

"He is a very patient person and leads the courtroom by example," Fuller said. "He is certainly a role model for anyone who makes their way onto the bench and he taught me a lot."

Fuller reiterated the sentiment of Story's kind manner.

"You will not meet a nicer person or a more qualified judge than Rick Story," said Fuller.

Story said that because of the Campbell trial, he did not get to watch the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing for Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, except in brief clips on the evening news.

"I have enormous respect for anyone who has been through the process for approval by the Senate," Story said.

Story appeared before the panel eight years ago, which was then chaired by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.

With his black robe off, Story is whimsical and self-deprecating when he reflects on a law career that has taken him from a local practice to the federal bench.

"It's the same question I've asked myself since I was first appointed as a juvenile judge, 'Do they understand that this is just Rick Story?'"

Contact: hblackwood@gainesvilletimes.com (770) 718-3423

Originally published Sunday, February 12, 2006

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