Barry Wilkes spent 35 years as clerk and court administrator for Liberty County.
Not surprisingly, more than 90 days after retirement he is still adjusting to life outside of the office from which he spent 35 years serving the residents of Liberty County.
But he’s always been willing to talk about a profession he considers one of the “noblest” of callings.
That hasn’t changed.
At 11 years old, Wilkes’ mother died, so he quickly learned to take care of himself.
He said this experience developed a relentless desire to achieve success at anything he set out to do.
As a result, Wilkes graduated high school early and attended Georgia Southern University where he earned a B.A. degree in sociology and anthropology. His post-graduate studies were in education.
After teaching in Long County and serving as administrator of the Atlantic Judicial Circuit of Georgia public defender program, Wilkes was elected as the first deputy clerk of Liberty County on Nov. 13, 1984.
“Serving as clerk is humbling,” he said. “It’s one of the noblest callings to which anyone could ever hope for or to which he or she could aspire. The clerk is the public’s contact person within the local court system. When persons availing themselves to the judicial system need help, they cannot talk to a judge because judicial canons prohibit doing so. So, in most cases, the clerk is the only court official with whom they can talk and get help, although the clerk is barred by law from dispensing legal advice.”
Wilkes began guiding the clerk’s office when Liberty County was urbanizing due to the growth of Fort Stewart and at a time when automation for the clerk’s office and the courts was virtually nonexistent. Everything was done manually and only two clerk offices in the state had some form of automation. This put him in a unique position to modernize the office locally and nationally.
In 1989, Wilkes created and developed one of the nation’s first court websites, www.livertyco.com. He and former Gwinnett County Clerk of Superior Court, Gary Yates, were also the architects of the Georgia Superior Court Clerks’ Cooperative Authority.
Wilkes created most legislation affecting superior court clerks and the court system from 1989 to 2016. Some bills include HB 655, HB 1582, SB 135 and HB 415.
“The bloodiest war we ever fought was over HB 1EX which determined which agency of government would have oversight for collection and reporting of fines and fees in Georgia’s 1,200-plus courts,” Wilkes said.
Two bills he crafted are currently being acted on in the Georgia General Assembly, one creating a statewide system for electronic filing of state tax liens and the other providing for mandatory e-filing of land plats.
During his time in office, Wilkes held leadership positions in County Officers’ Association of Georgia, Georgia Superior Court Clerks’ Association, National Association for Court Management, Georgia Mapping and Land Records Modernization Advisory Board, Court Futures Vanguard, Supreme Court of Georgia’s Committee on Technology, Liberty County Records Advisory Board, Liberty County Information Technology Board and American Judicature Society/Justice Management Institute Pro Se Litigation Task Force.
Due to his innovation and leadership, he earned the first Lifetime Achievement Award from the Georgia Superior Court Clerks, the 1993 Superior Court Clerk of the Year Award for the State of Georgia, the 1999 County Constitutional Officer of the Year of Georgia by the County Constitutional Officers’ Association of Georgia and the 2014 Liberty Life Magazine Best Boss, Best Public Servant Award and Best Place to Work awards.
“My most difficult moment while serving as clerk of superior court was deciding to retire after suffering two heart attacks on December 26, 2015,” he said. “I’ve always said when my tenure in office ended, I would have no regrets.”
Now that his years of service in the office are over, Wilkes plans to spend some of his time serving local charities. However, most of his time will be spent traveling with his wife, Janelle, and enjoying his hobbies of writing, gardening, woodworking, painting, fishing and photography.
No matter what he is doing, his service to Liberty County will be part of his fondest memories.
“It’s been a wonderful journey and, as long as I live, I will treasure every minute I’ve lived since November 13, 1984, when I walked in the clerk’s office and took the reins,” Wilkes said.