Solicitor general will miss partnerships

By Ed Brock

Keith Martin seems to enjoy having varied responsibilities.

It's not enough that Clayton County's outgoing solicitor general is planning to enter private practice after his term officially ends. On Monday at 8 a.m. he will begin his new job as the part-time city solicitor in Fayetteville, and on Tuesday he'll start the same job in Tyrone.

He'll also be co-authoring a manual for trial lawyers, and in his position with Driebe & Driebe of Jonesboro 56-year-old Martin may do more than just criminal defense.

"I hope to explore a lot of other areas," Martin said.

Born in south DeKalb County, Martin graduated from what was then Gordon High School and spent a short time at DeKalb College before dropping out to join the U.S. Marine Corps in 1966. He spent 31 months in Vietnam and was released from active duty in 1971. In July of that year he went to work as a patrol officer for the Clayton County Police Department.

"My dad gave me the advice of not going to DeKalb or Atlanta but to go to a growing county," Martin said. "As it grows it would push you up with it."

He served for six years under then Clayton County Police Chief Howard Smith, "the most terrifying man I even met," Martin said.

Martin achieved the rank of detective sergeant before leaving the department in 1977. For a few months he worked in loss prevention for a JCPenney's department store before going to work as an investigator for Clayton County District Attorney Bob Keller.

In 1978 Martin and his friends, former Clayton County Police Chief Ronnie Clackum and now Judge Mike Martin, decided they needed to go to law school. They finished Atlanta Law School in 1981 and Martin became an assistant district attorney.

He also served as the municipal judge in Riverdale and as a judge in Clayton County State Court for two days a week before being elected to solicitor general in 1988. This past July he lost the office to incoming Solicitor General Leslie Miller Terry.

When he entered the office he had a staff of eight people and no computers.

"We typed virtually every document," Martin said.

He leaves an office that has grown to a staff of 30 with an inter-agency information sharing system "that's the envy of every prosecutor's office in the state."

Martin was named Solicitor General of the Year for 2004 by the Georgia Association of Solicitor Generals and has prosecuted several high-profile cases in the State Court.

Martin has been more than a boss, he's been a good friend, said Master Assistant Solicitor General Evelyn Sanderfur.

"Keith's got the best legal mind that I know, no ifs, ands or buts about it," Sanderfur said. "Even though he seems gruff on the outside, he genuinely cares about the people who come through this court house."

Jackie Headley, the office manager who worked with Martin for a little more than two years, also said he was "a good boss and a good friend."

"I can't really put it into words how I feel about him," Headley said.

There are two things of which he is most proud, Martin said. For one, he said, if you took a snapshot of the solicitor general's office "it would look like a checkerboard."

"It would be people working together, people enjoying each other. It would be people totally oblivious to the color of each other's skin," Martin said.

The second thing is the partnerships he's built up with victims' advocate groups like the Clayton County Humane Society, the Southern Crescent Sexual Assault Center and the Securus House shelter for battered women.

"I think that partnership where people care is something I'll always be grateful for," Martin said.

Martin will be missed, said Humane Society Vice President Robin Rawls.

"I think his departure will be a real setback for animals," Rawls said. "He's become a real ally."

Martin has gone out of his way to help the society and to make sure animal cruelty cases were prosecuted.

"These are not cases that usually don't take a high priority, but with Keith they did," Rawls said.

Another partnership that makes Martin proud is the one he has with the county's judges in State Court.

"Being a State Court judge in Clayton County, it's a hard job," Martin said. "I think I'm a reflection of two different things, my staff and the judges. Those two pushing, they have pushed me up."

As for the new administration, Martin said that the Clayton County government is full of people who truly want to help, a fact that made his life much easier. The new solicitor general should take advantage of any offer of assistance.

"If you reach out with an open hand it will be filled with blessings," Martin said. "It won't be if you reach out with a closed fist."