AIKEN - Contrary to the stories often told about him, longtime 2nd Circuit Judge Rodney Peeples never gave defendants years behind bars based on how many buttons were on their shirts or told them that a sapling outside his window would be "an old oak tree" when they got out of prison.
But the retired judge, honored with an unveiling of his portrait at the Aiken County Judicial Center on Tuesday, acknowledged that his reputation for strict sentences had grown to almost mythic proportions.
"Some of you here may have disagreed with my sentencing philosophy, but I assure you, one of the toughest tasks I faced was taking away the freedom of others," he said.
Judge Peeples, 64, who retired in April after 30 years of service to the circuit that includes Aiken, Bamberg and Barnwell counties, was all smiles Tuesday as he accepted the gift from the Aiken Bar Association.
The portrait will hang on the wood-paneled walls of Aiken County's main circuit courtroom alongside the portraits of U.S. District Judge Charles Simons Jr.; the late U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond, who served as a judge in Aiken from 1938 to 1946; and former South Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Julius Ness.
"I'm going to stay up there, but I'm not sure I belong in their company," Judge Peeples said after the ceremony.
"Those are great people. I am truly honored."
Judge Jack Early, who succeeded Judge Peeples as Aiken County's resident judge, praised his predecessor for his commitment to the job, his legal acumen and his sharp memory.
"He had a photographic memory, especially when it came to the past transgressions of some of the members of the criminal community that went before him," Judge Early joked.
Known as a stickler for preparation and promptness, the judge demanded as much from the lawyers who appeared in his court, said attorney David Miller, who served as his last law clerk.
"He was firm, but he was also courteous," Mr. Miller said.
"I look forward to coming in and seeing him looking down on me as I practice law in this courtroom. To me, he will always be the judge."
Reach Stephen Gurr at (803) 648-1395, ext. 110, or firstname.lastname@example.org.