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Judge Peggy Walker Addresses DeKalb Bar Family Section


From left: Dawn de Klerk, Honorable Peggy Walker, Charlie Bailey, Alice Limehouse

Judge Peggy Walker of the Douglas County Juvenile Court, spoke at the September breakfast meeting of the DeKalb Bar Association Family Law Section.

Judge Walker is an alumna of Georgia State University, having earned a master’s degree in education and a juris doctorate of law. She has a seemingly boundless supply of energy and participates in a multitude of professional organizations. She is an active member of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, having served as its president-elect in 2014. In her capacity with National Council, she is serving on STRYVE (Striving to Reduce Youth Violence Everywhere) Action Council, a national effort to end youth violence. She is a graduate fellow of Zero To Three class of 2005 and was a senior fellow at Emory University in 2008, where she worked with Lila Bradley and Judge Steve Franzen on a manual for judges and practitioners to promote preservation of families. She helped secure federal grants and monies from the State and county government to fund a family drug treatment program. She is a member of the National Alliance on Mental Illness and is active with NAMI’s Family to Family educational program for family, significant others, and friends of people living with mental illness.


Although Judge Walker lives and works in Douglas County, she was very happy to speak DeKalb Family Law attorneys, explaining that her early career was spent in DeKalb, clerking for Judge Castellani from 1986 until 1988. One of the cases she remembers as a law clerk involved a murder defendant who suffered from borderline personality disorder, and she was astonished by the duality of an ostensibly decent young man who had stabbed a woman to death. As Judge Walker’s career progressed, she developed a greater understanding of the impact that mental illness has in not just criminal cases, but domestic too. Judge Walker talked about the need to educate ourselves on mental health and emphasized how important it is for attorneys to balance their stressful workloads by maintaining healthy habits.

The mental health of clients is crucial to our effective representation of them. An obvious concern is that clients help, not hinder, the process of resolving disputes. Judge Walker strongly recommends that we counsel our clients on how clients’ behavior impacts the progress and outcome of cases. A less obvious concern is the trauma of legal disputes on the children involved. Judge Walker recommended reading the ACEs study (Adverse Childhood Experiences, to learn about how childhood experiences have enormous life-long effects. She also noted that a study by the Search Institute shows that kids with spiritual connections are more resilient to trauma. Spirituality includes religion, being outdoors, or any activity that develops mindfulness.

Although our clients’ mental health is a concern, . . . [we must] prioritize our own mental health. . . there’s wisdom in the adage, ‘You can’t take care of others unless you take care of yourself.'”

Although our clients’ mental health is a concern, Judge Walker fervently urges us to prioritize our own mental health. She made several recommendations. First, set boundaries, both for yourself and your client. Take some time for yourself each day, even if it’s just for a few minutes, and do something that you really love. Second, get up and move! The brain and body are wired together, and physical activity helps regulate the brain. Third and fourth, eat healthy and get enough sleep. Other less familiar advice included developing social connections beyond our work because socializing helps relieve stress and provides perspective, and maintaining a positive “inner voice” because the tone your internal dialogue frames your thinking and is reflected in your outward demeanor. She reminded us that there’s wisdom in the adage, “You can’t take care of others unless you take care of yourself.”

Judge Walker talked about her volunteer work with Habitat for Humanity, which seems to fulfill many of the mental health tips at once: doing something you love, getting up and moving, socializing, and maintaining a constructive inner voice. Her passion for helping families is clear, and her presentation on mental health was wrapped in that slightly familiar tone of a mother’s chiding to take care of yourself while the substance was engaging and compelling.

DeKalb Superior Court Judges J.P. Boulee and Clarence Seeliger attended. Section Chair Alice Limehouse presided over the program. The Sponsor Spotlight featured Lynn Pasqualetti of HLM Financial Group who talked about the expert financial advice she can provide, including advice on the common question of whether to file jointly or separately during the last year of marriage. Apparently the answer can involve serious tax implications!

We welcome you to join us for the next Family Law Section Breakfast on Thursday, October 6, 2016 at 7:30 a.m. in the Historic DeKalb Courthouse. DeKalb Superior Court Judge Clarence F. Seeliger and Dr. Silvio Reyes, vocational expert, will discuss “Helpful Tools for Imputing Income in Family Law Cases.”

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