When it’s all said and done, Judge Barney Houser wants to be remembered for being fair.
Houser, a longtime municipal court judge for the City of Orangeburg, retired on Friday.
“It hadn’t completely sunken in yet,” Houser said. “I’ll know in a couple weeks.”
Walking into his final day at the Municipal Court, Houser said it was “a little sad.”
“I didn’t realize it was all going to go by this quickly,” he said. “Everybody tells you when you’re young how fast it goes but when you’re young you never believe them.”
Houser is a graduate of the University of South Carolina and finished law school in 1984.
He started working with attorney Jimmy Williams, who later became a circuit court judge.
“I worked with him for eight years and then he went to the solicitor’s office and then I practiced by myself for five years here in Orangeburg,” Houser said.
After 13 years of practicing law, Houser said he felt his heart wasn’t in it as much and retired from it in 1998.
Two years later, Judge Ronald Salley retired. He had been city judge for 20 years.
“I kind of felt like I’d already used my law degree so I applied for this job and was appointed municipal judge in the end of February 2000,” Houser said.
That’s where he’s been ever since.
As municipal judge, he handled misdemeanor-type cases including shoplifting, petty larceny and domestic violence.
“At this jurisdiction level, we’re kind of where the rubber meets the road,” Houser said. “Judges at municipal court and magistrate’s level, that’s where probably 90 percent of the public that has any dealings with the court system, this is the court level that they deal with.”
Also, “Anyone that’s arrested for anything in the City of Orangeburg would come before me for a bond hearing, so I have seen everything over the years -- murderers, robberies,” he said.
Houser oversaw bond hearings twice a day every day, held traffic court twice a week and held jury trials one week a month.
“I estimate that in my career, I’ve probably had over 60,000 people stand in front of me for one thing or another,” Houser said.
“It’s always been an interesting job because almost on a weekly basis, there’s something new,” he continued. “Every morning when you come in, you just never know what or who is going to be standing in the courtroom.”
Unfortunately, there have been several repeat offenders that Houser’s seen through the years. He even knows some on a first-name basis.
“Generally no one is happy because they’re coming through the criminal justice system,” he said.
Houser said he would use alternative sentencing for some cases.
For instance, rather than send an alcoholic to jail, he would have them attend AA meetings.
“I’ve actually had a couple people sent to AA that some years later I saw them and said, ‘Thanks for sending me. I was able to turn my life around,’” Houser said.
There were also cases where he made parents hold their child’s driver’s license and drive them to school for a month or two to convince them not to speed.
Although the job often put him in contact with people in their unhappiest of moments, Houser said every once in a while there was glimmer of humor in the courtroom.
He recalled a favorite case of his with a lady who received a speeding ticket.
“She was just adamant. She kept saying, ‘I wasn’t speeding! I wasn’t speeding!’” Houser said.
Finally he asked her how she knew she wasn’t speeding.
“She said, ‘Well I looked at my speed thermometer!’” Houser said, laughing. “That pretty much brought the whole courtroom down.”
Orangeburg Mayor Michael Butler said he’s enjoyed working with Houser.
“I feel like he’s been really fair with his deliberations in executing the cases and helping the citizens of Orangeburg,” Butler said. “We wish him much success and much blessings in his retirement.”
In his retirement, Houser said he plans to do plenty of the things he always wanted to.
“I’m going to do a lot of hunting and fishing all over the world,” Houser said. “In two weeks, I go to the Amazon.”
Houser used to have a collection of African masks, deer and antelope in his office.
“All I’ve ever really wanted to do was hunt and fish and I’m going to do a lot of it now,” he said.
Houser is a lifelong resident of Orangeburg.
He’s been married to Alice Houser for 29 years.
“I’ve now been married half my life,” Houser said.
Together, they have two children: Morgan, a nurse in Charleston, and Tyler, who works for a law firm in Orangeburg.