Candice Branche (A.B. psychology, ’90, M.A. counseling, ’92) was sworn in August 2 as Assistant Probate Court Judge and full-time Magistrate Court Judge of Newton County, Georgia. The former Deputy Chief Assistant District Attorney of Newton County embarked on this new phase of her legal career after a fulfilling and impactful earlier career as a therapist and mental health professional.
Branche arrived at UGA with an open and curious mind, already torn between counseling and therapy, and perhaps eventually law school. With a general interest in psychology, she followed an interest in learning about it even though she wasn’t sure what she might want to do with it as a career.
“I found psychology fascinating, though I didn’t know what direction I was going in,” Branche said. “You just don’t know until you take a lot of different courses. I have interests in many different things, obviously, but psychology seemed to hold my heart and my interest.”
Branche finished her undergraduate degree determined to make a difference. “I waited to start my master’s program in community counseling (in the College of Education) in the summer of ’91. During that time, I taught for the Head Start program on Gaines School Road,” Branche said. “My classroom had different types of challenges – physical and special needs, or some with some history of some form of abuse, sexual or other. I was working with those children, about 10 kids.”
Attracted to the therapy route in graduate school, Branche pursued community counseling and more hands-on training. “One crucial part of it is you’re conducting therapy while being videotaped and critiqued. There’s a lot of supervision and the therapy dynamic is unfamiliar at first.”
But the practicums proved fruitful for Branche, who became the first UGA student to go to Ridgeview Institute for an internship. “My passion for working with kids came through their partial hospitalization program for adolescents. I was hooked.”
From there, Branche began as a therapist conducting needs assessments and evaluations in a private psychiatric hospital. She rose to department head at age 24, and was part of a team that organized one of the first mobile assessment units in the Atlanta area.
“I worked 8 to 5 but also took night shifts where you’re called out to emergency rooms or employers, which was challenging in retrospect as it was before cell phones. You’re stopping all over Atlanta, using pay phones, going to the next call. But it was fast-paced and I loved it. I loved all the hospitals – Crawford Long, Douglasville – and all the while being tasked with determining what level of care a person needed.”
After ten years, Branche moved to Charter Greenville Hospital in Greer, SC and then to the group’s Charleston facility where she directed utilization review, mobile assessment and needs assessment.
Then as the industry began to shift, Branche’s career also changed. “It was a period of time when managed care was paying for people to get treatment, which then shifted toward tighter limits on the number of the days certified for treatment,” she said. “We had kids in our hospital that were in residential [care] and their stays were getting shorter and I kept thinking: what can I do possibly to maybe reach some people beforehand, earlier, to make a better difference?”
That answer came in the form of purchasing a daycare facility in Summerville, SC. “We worked with kids from single-parent homes, much of the time with the working poor. I liked it, because I could control their curriculum and I made sure that we had a full-time cook there so they had breakfast and lunch, no matter what. We had 100 kids, including after-school aged children, and it reminded me of when I worked for Head Start. I was constantly surrounded by either people who were just struggling financially – their kids had or needed DFACS/DSS involvement. I owned that for a long time, and was planning to go back to law school eventually, because I kept thinking ‘there’s got to be more I can do.’”
When her husband passed away, Branche returned to Georgia with two small children. She commuted from Covington to Macon every day for three years to attend Mercer University Law School. “I have a brother, Cayce, about 14 years younger and he was a year ahead of me in law school, plus my daughters were five and seven. But I continued to tell myself – I think I can do this.”
Upon graduation in 2010, she passed the bar and began working in the Newton County District Attorney’s office. “The great things about having my psychology degrees and the juvenile court is that I got to do the best of everything that originally inspired me by working in a court system that believes in rehabilitation. I was able to protect victims again, just as we had dealt with victims of all kinds when I worked at hospitals.”
Branche helped start the original team for the Newton County Adult Felony Drug Court in 2013, and eventually became a trainer and consultant for the National Drug Court Association. The experience found her working at the forefront of a very pressing issue: the revolving door that keeps people coming back to jail.
“They’re getting the same criminal charges, the same drug charges, and jailing them with no treatment doesn’t break the pattern. When people aren’t able to get better, they’re not becoming productive, they’re losing their children, losing their house, their jobs. But drug courts present a strong solution. A long program, where people can get treatment, allowing them to work, re-connect broken relationships and become productive again.”
Branche recognizes that prosecutors are given a great deal of power, and believes that her background, her experience, and her education has helped guide her.
“Realizing that people make mistakes – it doesn’t mean that decisions you make don’t have repercussions or consequences, and as a prosecutor that was my job. But it’s also protecting the community, sometimes trying to understand people and meet them where they are. Now on the bench, you hope that you temper that with some grace, with trying to do what’s in the best interest of the community and victims, but also the person standing in front of you that is the defendant.”
Of her elevation to the bench, Branche is thrilled to have been appointed, and grateful to be able to continue to make a difference. With one daughter a senior psychology major at UGA and another in high school, she is excited to watch where their interests take them and share her experiences from along the way.
“There are so many different ways you can do this. For my daughter Lexie, who is studying psychology, I told her that with this degree, you can go down all kinds of avenues, work with all kinds of people – as much as who (you can help), how can you be of service is the better question you have to ask yourself. How can I be of service? Where are my gifts? Where are my talents? And kind of go with that. You’ll be surprised that if you’re going in the right direction those doors will kind of just start to open and just nudge you along.”