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Local judge to make leap to Superior Court
Warren Davis takes office Jan. 8

LAWRENCEVILLE - Judge Warren Davis has been kidnapped before.

It was sometime in the late 1970s. He was working a truck stop on Pleasant Hill Road as an undercover narcotics officer with Gwinnett police, posing (apparently quite well) as a drug dealer.

A real pusher took the bait. And then he took Davis with him - roaring away from the scene with the faux dealer in his passenger seat.

What happened next belies Davis' polite nature. He got all "Dirty Harry" on his captor.

"We made it a half-mile down the road," the Chief Magistrate Court judge remembers. "I put my revolver in the driver's ear, and he found it in his best interest to stop."

After three decades enforcing Georgia's laws, Davis is highly acquainted with the criminal psyche. His knowledge of wrongdoers - and the lurid forces that propel them - is the product of firsthand observations, he said. He rubbed elbows with crooks long before he booted them to the hoosegow.

And his experience is reaping dividends.

"I've been involved with criminals in all aspects of the criminal process," said Davis, 56, in his spacious, first-floor office at the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center. The space is dotted with evidence of Davis' photography skills (a fireworks explosion behind trees) and his zest for travel (him, elated, atop Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa). He likes it here.

But Davis won't be on the ground level for long.

Earlier this month, Davis was appointed by Gov. Sonny Perdue as Gwinnett's 10th Superior Court Judge. The promotion puts Gwinnett on par with neighbors Cobb and DeKalb counties (both have 10 Superior Court judges) and nearer to Fulton County (19).

Davis was picked over four candidates - three private practice attorneys and a fellow Magistrate judge - whom he calls marvelously qualified. He's thrown his hat in this ring once before, to no avail.

This time, Davis attributes his diverse, multitudinous experiences in law enforcement with earning him the nod. He takes office Jan. 8.

"It's a little bit humbling," Davis said. "Probably the most exciting prospect of it is having more time in the courtroom."

Superior Court deals mostly with the headline-hogging crimes. Its judges have jurisdiction over criminal felonies, domestic and civil cases. But unlike the ever-busy Magistrate Court - which Davis has dubbed "the emergency room of the judicial system" - Superior Court allows its leaders time to dabble in the nuances and subtleties of interesting cases.

And it's great place to watch top attorneys flourish in their element, Davis said.

"It's less administrative work - more people," he said.

Southern exposure

Davis uprooted from his native Wisconsin to study at Georgia Tech, pushed southward by more than brutal winters. His paternal family was from the South, and Atlanta "just seemed like such a neat city," he said.

Davis' first position with local police saw him stationed at a tiny, box-like building on Lawrenceville's square. The security system there - a loaded .38 in a desk drawer - was primitive at best.

Butch Conway, the Gwinnett County sheriff, worked as a sergeant over Davis in his Gwinnett police days. Conway recalled the future judge puttering around Gwinnett in an undercover Volkswagen while keeping pace with his law school studies by day.

"I admired that about Warren - he was focused," Conway said. "He was a great undercover detective and just a super guy. I'm proud of him."

Conway laughed that the most hilarious stories from Davis' undercover days are not fit for print.

Davis was first appointed as a magistrate in 1984, and three years later Gwinnett Superior Court officials elevated him to chief magistrate. He's been elected to the position five times since.

Davis manages a hefty 70,000 criminal cases each year. He works a split shift. A growing percentage of his defendants don't speak English. He's prone to answer e-mails at 9 p.m.

It's a sporadic, hectic life.

But Magistrate Court has been home to Davis for nearly a quarter century. He likes it here. It's just time to literally move up, he said, somewhere in the upper floors of GJAC, where the governor thinks he'll fit nicely.

"I'll still be in the building," Davis said. "It's a perfect transition."