My day job today brought me to an issue in the far reaching corners of northwest Georgia. In my search, I was directed to the Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit webpage, but in order to access any information, I had to travel back in time to the 1980s – and for a brief moment, the 1960s.
On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee had a hearing on Marsy’s Law which would place crime victims’ rights into the constitutions of states that haven’t done so. Georgia is one of 15 states that has yet to do this with North Dakota, South Dakota, and Montana passing the law overwhelmingly in November. State Senator John Kennedy (R-Macon) sponsored the bill with 20 co-sponsors to include President Pro tem David Shafer, Sen. Jeff Mullis, Sen. William Ligon, Sen. John Albers, and Sen. Nan Orrock. The legislation would add seven new rights to the Georgia Constitution in regards to crime victims and their ability and right to be heard during court proceedings involving their perpetrator, alleged or convicted. And while Georgia currently boasts a Victim’s Bill of Rights, Senator Kennedy’s Senate Resolution 146 would place the language in the Georgia Constitution, giving teeth to laws that Marsy’s Law advocates have testified to not existing.
Marsy’s Law would give victims the right to be heard in court, the right to notifications of judicial proceedings, parole hearings, change of custody status, etc. And while it may seem obvious that these things are in place, a spokesperson for Marsy’s Law says that, in fact, they are not. “One mother’s son was murdered, the killer let out of prison and she was never notified. She found out on social media and had to work for weeks to convince the powers that be that he had been wrongfully released before his term was up,” says the spokesperson. “Another mom’s daughter was killed by a distracted driver. She was never notified of court proceedings and the driver never served time; her daughter wasn’t even mentioned in the court transcript. Another is a mom whose young daughters were molested and she can’t get answers for why the perpetrator hasn’t been arrested despite physical evidence.”
Directly after the testimony of the victims on Tuesday, Gwinnett DA Danny Porter and Prosecuting Attorneys Council director Chuck Spahos testified stating they have yet to hear a case where a victim needed constitutional rights because these rights are already in statute.
However, testimony shows there are problems in some places and when a victims’ rights aren’t carried out, the victim currently has no standing. Julie Allison, a victim advocate from Columbus who goes to the parole board every year to make sure her father’s killer isn’t released, testified that when she’s working on behalf of new victims, she’s often told their rights aren’t really enforceable.
Advocates for Marsy’s Law have been working with Prosecutors to reach an agreement on this legislation for over a year. Hours before Tuesday’s hearing, prosecutors offered up revised language. The prosecutors argued that if Marsy’s Law was placed into the constitution, it would prevent advocates from strengthening victims’ rights in the future. Sen. Hunter Hill (R-Smyrna) pointed out that putting it in the constitution does no such thing noting the 2nd Amendment doesn’t prevent Congress from having laws about gun rights.
Thirty-five states have amended their constitutions to reflect Marsy’s Law. Amending the Georgia constitution would give teeth to the laws here at home that require victim notification, not just in general, but in a timely manner. Marsy’s Law being placed in the Georgia Constitution would ensure that victims are notified of court hearings, that they have right to provide input to prosecutors before pleas are made, the right to be heard and the right to restitution.
The law-abiding constituents of Georgia deserve the same rights as victims as are afforded to the criminals in our system. And at the very least, they deserve the right to have the measure put on the ballot.
The Senate Judiciary Committee is meeting today at 4pm with Marsy’s Law on the agenda once again.
Sen. David Perdue met recently with U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch. He released the following statement:
“After meeting with Judge Gorsuch, it is abundantly clear that he is a principled jurist who will put the Constitution, and the rights of all Americans, at the forefront of any decision he makes. We discussed our country’s Founding Principles of economic opportunity, fiscal responsibility, limited government, and individual liberty, and how these principles have made our nation exceptional throughout our history. Additionally, Judge Gorsuch has an impeccable academic and legal career that speaks for itself. Throughout our discussion today Judge Gorsuch’s intellect and profound commitment to the rule of law was evident. I have no doubt Judge Gorsuch will be an outstanding associate justice on the United States Supreme Court and he has my utmost support.”
President Trump has nominated Judge Neil Gorsuch to fill the vacancy left by Antonin Scalia on the United States Supreme Court. Georgia’s Senators Johnny Isakson and David Perdue released the following statements on the nomination:
“I have consistently said that the next Supreme Court justice should be someone who understands and values the Constitution of the United States of America, who will rule based on the law and who will not legislate through activist judicial decisions,” said Isakson. “I know that the president shares this view and based on his previous rulings, Judge Gorsuch shares the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s commitment to starting all constitutional analysis with the actual text of the Constitution. In addition, Judge Gorsuch’s distinguished service on the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals provides vital, relevant experience for service on our nation’s highest court.
“As I argued following the untimely death of Justice Scalia last year, the American people deserved to have a voice in the process of selecting our next Supreme Court justice by allowing the next president to select Justice Scalia’s replacement. That day has arrived and the American people have spoken. President Trump’s nominee deserves fair and thorough consideration and an up-or-down vote by the Senate, and I look forward to Judge Gorsuch’s confirmation process.”
Speaker David Ralston has made his appointment to the Judicial Qualifications Commission, picking Richard Hyde of the firm Balch & Bingham. Hyde is not unfamiliar with the JQC, having previously served as an investigator and member of the body. He has the reputation of being somewhat of a “bulldog”, which is not a reference to that awesome school in Athens.
The appointment was made possible by the passing of November’s “Amendment 3”, which allocated appointments to the JQC to additional elected officials. Previously, Lt Governor Casey Cagle appointed Forsyth County Commissioner Brian Tam to the body.
The JQC conducts investigations and hearings with respect to complaints of ethical misconduct by Georgia judges and is also authorized to issue Advisory Opinions regarding appropriate judicial conduct. Mr. Hyde has previously served as an investigator and a member of the JQC. His appointment will expire on June 30, 2017.
Georgia has dethroned Texas. First when Georgia created a more business friendly environment and now in the number of executions.
America saw 20 executions in 2016, nine of which came from Georgia. That’s nearly half of the executions nationwide. It’s the most inmates Georgia has put to death in the 40 years since the Supreme Court allowed executions. Prior to this year, Georgia’s record was five executions in 1987.
There are a plethora of reasons for Georgia’s high number of executions, notably the backlog that exists in death row. An execution can be halted for months at time while courts answer legal questions. The backlog is also attributed to various pauses in executions. They were halted from July 2012 to February 2013 while Georgia changed its execution drug from three drugs to one drug. It again paused from July 2013 to May 2014 while legal questions swirled around the new execution drugs.
According to Attorney General Chris Carr, there are no inmates eligible for execution in Georgia at the moment.
While other states are decreasing their use of execution, Georgia is in a position to continue its use of the death penalty. If anything, leaders have made it easier to find an inmate on death row.
Correction: It had previously said there are no inmates on death row in Georgia. There are currently 68 death row cases; however, there are no inmates eligible for execution at the moment.
Per press release:
The Judicial Nominating Commission has submitted recommendations to fill vacancies within the Superior Courts of the Atlanta, Augusta, and Douglas Judicial Circuits. These vacancies were created by the resignations of the Honorable Jerry W. Baxter, the Honorable J. David Roper, and the Honorable Robert J. James. Governor Deal will fill the vacancies from among the lists. The Governor’s Office will contact candidates to schedule interviews.
The following names were submitted to Governor Deal:
Atlanta Judicial Circuit
Shukura Millender – Magistrate Judge, Fulton County
Richard S. Moultrie, Jr. – Deputy Chief Assistant U.S. Attorney, United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia
Paige Reese Whitaker – Deputy District Attorney, Fulton County District Attorney’s Office
Augusta Judicial Circuit
Pamela J. Doumar – Juvenile Court Judge, Augusta Judicial Circuit
Ashley Wright – District Attorney, Augusta Judicial Circuit
Douglas Judicial Circuit
Cynthia C. Adams – Judge Pro Tempore, Douglas County Juvenile Court; solo practitioner, Law Office of Cynthia C. Adams
Ryan R. Leonard – Chief Assistant District Attorney, Douglas Judicial Circuit
Peggy H. Walker – Judge, Juvenile Court of Douglas County
A two and a half year old complaint against House Speaker David Ralston has finally been settled in Ralston’s favor. The complaint, which dealt with the way Ralston handled escrow money of one of the clients in his law practice, was essentially settled last month, with Ralston agreeing to accept a minor reprimand from the State Bar. More serious charges against the Speaker were dropped. The agreement needed to be accepted by the State Supreme Court, which the court did today.
Ralston’s attorney, James Balli, issued the following statement:
From the first day this matter was reported, we said this was nothing more than an honest mistake made while helping a client’s family pay for medicine and other necessities. As determined by the Special Master and confirmed today by an unanimous Supreme Court, all of the other accusations and speculation were absolutely false. While somewhat biased, I believe anyone who engaged in furthering such rumormongering owes my client an apology. However, knowing his commitment to public service, I am certain the Speaker will put this matter behind him and continue to focus on moving our state forward.
I do know he is very grateful to his family and friends for their unwavering support throughout this ordeal.
Department of Community Health Commissioner Clyde Reese has been appointed to Georgia’s Court of Appeals. Governor Deal’s press release is as follows:
Gov. Nathan Deal today announced the appointment of the Honorable Clyde L. Reese III, Esq. to the Georgia Court of Appeals. Reese will fill the vacancy created by the retirement of the Honorable Herbert E. Phipps. The appointment will take effect on Dec. 1.
“Commissioner Reese’s extensive legal experience in both the public and private sectors make him the ideal candidate to join the Georgia Court of Appeals,” said Deal. “He has demonstrated his unwavering commitment to the well-being of Georgia’s citizens while running one of Georgia’s largest state agencies. Commissioner Reese also showed remarkable capabilities in implementing state law when he worked in the attorney general’s office. I am confident that his knowledge and experience will make him a true asset for the Georgia Court of Appeals and Georgia law for many years to come.” Continue reading “DCH Commissioner Clyde Reese Appointed To Court Of Appeals”
Summerville Attorney Don Thompson was named by Governor Nathan Deal to succeed Judge Jon “Bo” Wood in the Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit that covers Dade, Walker, Catoosa, and Chattooga Counties. According to a Chattanooga Times-Free Press article, Thompson was chosen over local District Attorney Herbert “Buzz” Franklin:
Deal appointed Thompson over Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit District Attorney Herbert “Buzz” Franklin, who interviewed for the job Thursday. Attorneys David Dunn, Keith Edwards and Michael Giglio also applied for the job but were not chosen for interviews with the governor.
Attorney Kenneth Bruce, attorney William Lundy, Chattooga County Sheriff Mark Schrader, attorney Larry Stagg and Chattooga County Commissioner Jason Winters nominated Thompson for the position. Thompson’s law firm has also been politically active over the years, donating a combined $19,800 to Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, Deal and state Sen. Jeff Mullis since 2010.
Judge Kristina Cook Graham praised the Governor’s appointment. You may remember the controversy I wrote about a couple of weeks ago concerning who will be the next chief of the circuit. Judge Wood appointed Graham to chief before he retired after promising to stay out of the decision, but Judges Brian House and Ralph Van Pelt disagreed and plan on holding a meeting to elect a chief. Judge Van Pelt told the Times Free Press that they plan on a meeting to do such after Thompson is sworn-in. A swearing-in date has not been set at this point.