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From Comstock St. to television bench

Former Harding gridder pitches decisions before the cameras

Former Fulton County, Ga., Judge Gino Brogdon, a football star in the late 1970s with the Warren G. Harding Panthers, would rather that people not call him judge anymore.

“Judge is just a job I used to have, but it is now something I play on television,” the Warren native said in a recent Zoom interview.

Television viewers may have seen Brogdon behind the bench on a show called “Personal Injury Court.”

The journey to television took Brodgon on a winding path. Since leaving the Mahoning Valley in the early 1980s, Brogdon’s career has spanned college football fields to law school, to legal aide for an Indiana judge to Atlanta courtrooms, to the television bench and author’s tours.

Brogdon’s life started humbly in a small home on Warren’s North End on Comstock Street.

“I grew up with eight older brothers and two older sisters, and my parents filled in the gaps with cement and roses,” he laughed. “I am the product of their blood, sweat and tears. I am the most grateful dude who ever walked the earth.”

He said his brothers taught him to work all the time, whether it was raking leaves in the fall, shoveling snow in the winter or cutting grass in the spring and summer.

“We never had a boring summer,” he said — reminiscing about the infrequent “treats” at the Hot Dog Shoppe or downtown Burger King.

His dad, with a third-grade education, did his best to put food on the table, Brogdon said, with his mother’s eighth-grade education helping to secure clothes brought in second-hand from the Salvation Army.

In his youth, he said he remembers playing youth football at Packard Park, basketball on the courts at old Roosevelt school on Hall Avenue, and riding his bike to the end of the street to the playgrounds at North End Park.

“My brothers had to make up our bikes out of the junk pile. We couldn’t afford to buy any,” he said.

Brogdon said he got through Warren G. Harding High School with a 3.2 grade point average and without writing any term papers.

“The one I turned in was plagiarized word for word from the encyclopedia,” he said. “I got a B.”

He said he remembered getting through academically because he was a captain of the football team at both Harding and later at Oberlin College.

OBERLIN INFLUENCE

At Oberlin, Brogdon met his first lawyer while giving tours of the north central Ohio campus.

“The only lawyer I had known was Perry Mason,” Brogdon said.

But it was one of his professors, Booker Peak, who “unleashed the beast” in Brogdon, he said.

“The prof taught me that if I didn’t know a word, that I would have to look it up. I didn’t speak much then because I didn’t know much,” Brogdon said. “He showed me how to learn a new word each day. If you check my cellphone app, you can see that I still do that.”

Now a public speaker who has had more than 1,000 speaking engagements, Brogdon said Peak also taught him to open up his mind and not procrastinate.

“It’s either Day One or one day,” he said.

It was at The University of Indiana Law School that he got his first break in a law career that has spanned three-and-a-half decades. His counselor at Oberlin, however, had told Brogdon there wasn’t a law school that would accept him.

“But I followed my own gut,” he said.

In an interview with an Indiana judge for a clerkship position, Brogdon noticed the judge said he had never hired “one of your kind.”

“Well, I didn’t get angry or anything, but responded that ‘I haven’t ever worked for one of your kind,'” Brogdon said.

Brogdon said he got the job, and Judge William Gerard since has become an incredible mentor for whom Brogdon has a lot of love.

“This proves that candor is often the ally of kindness,” he said.

LAW FIRM

After being a law clerk, Brogdon moved to Atlanta where he joined the law firm of Drew Eckl and Farnham, where he defended liability cases as well as property and casualty issues. Eventually, he joined the firm’s malpractice team

In 1996, Brogdon said he was at a party of lawyers and was complaining about the indecision of a certain judge.

“I was saying, ‘If I was the judge in that case, I would abide by the rules and not act like a squeamish surgeon,'” he said.

Overhearing this conversation were two aides to then-Georgia Gov. Zell Miller, who later put Brogdon on a short list for a judicial appointment.

In the interview, Brogdon again was candid.

“I told him I didn’t like politics and didn’t donate to anybody’s campaign,” Brogdon said.

Again, Brogdon was rewarded for his candor and showed his flair for being the victim of his practical joke when the call came from the governor’s office.

“It was a Sunday afternoon, and I told my brothers not to call because I was expecting the call from the governor. When the guy on the other end of the line said congratulations, man, you got the job, I thought it was my brother playing a joke — and I said ‘quit messing around!” but I didn’t say messing,” Brodgon said.

“When I heard the laughter on the other end, I thought that laugh doesn’t sound like my brother. Well, you can imagine the laughter as the governor told that story during my swearing in,” he laughed.

JUDGE GINO

As a judge, Brogdon handled multimillion-dollar liability cases, such as the ones arising out of the 1996 ValuJet crash in the Florida Everglades.

When he reached the superior court bench, he dealt with a host of cases involving murder, rape and drugs. In his last days as a judge, Brogdon also sat with special designation in one case on the Georgia Supreme Court.

He said he got into television through a colleague on the Fulton County, Ga., bench whose show “didn’t go anywhere.”

Again, when he faced a lineup of executive producers, Brogdon said he could only give honest answers. The executive producer David Armour, who was responsible for making reality TV stars out of Sally Jesse Rafael and Ricky Lake, gave him a call a year later.

In between his television work, Brogdon does legal mediation and is one of the most sought-after in Georgia.

He also serves on arbitration panels and has put his expanded vocabulary to work writing thriller novels, with much of his material coming from the vast criminal cases that he tried.

Brogdon said he did one season of shows of “Personal Injury Court,” shooting eight episodes per day, but the production has been suspended because of COVID-19.

“There is something in the works soon, and it’ll be called “The Judge Gino Show,” but it really should be called ‘Hello, I’m Gino from Comstock,'” he said.

gvogrin@tribtoday.com

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