Dear Courts Journal Readers:
While we welcomed news of COVID-19 vaccines, contagion numbers are climbing once again and the Judicial Council met twice in December—a General Session held on the 11th and an emergency meeting held on the 22nd. Both meetings were livestreamed and archived. The ninth extension of the statewide judicial emergency was ordered by Chief Justice Melton on 12/9/2020 and was amended on 12/23/2020 to once again prohibit jury trials. The Annual Report for the Judicial Council/Administrative Office of the Courts was distributed online to Judicial Council members during the general meeting and it will be distributed as a printed version to legislators in January. During the general meeting, we learned that eight state court judges are retiring (a collective 173 years on the bench) and 29 probate court judges are retiring (a collective 599 years on the bench)—we thank them for their service to Georgia. We mourn the loss of Valdosta Municipal Court Judge Vernita Bender who was taken too soon. We send our sincerest condolences to her husband and young sons.
Bill of Rights Day was December 15th, and the JC/AOC honored one of our nation’s foundational documents by hosting a robust panel discussion with ten Georgia judges and students & teachers at Alliance Academy in Forsyth, The Barrow Arts & Sciences Academy, Lincoln County Middle School, and Thomas County Middle School which was live-streamed and archived. Thanks to our Georgia judges who participated: Justice Charlie Bethel; Chief Judge Christopher McFadden; Vice-Chief Judge Brian Rickman; Judge Walter Davis; Chief Judge Asha Jackson; Chief Judge Jeffrey Bagley; Judge Currie Mingledorff; Chief Judge Russell McClelland; Presiding Juvenile Court Judge Christopher Willis, and Probate Court Chief Judge Kelli Wolk. The students asked great questions, including: When a person pleads the 5th, does that make them seem guilty?; do you find yourself looking at the Bill of Rights more than the other amendments?; In GA and elsewhere criminal jury trials are not currently being held, how is that balanced with the 6th amendment right to a speedy trial?; Why did you want to become a judge?; How are the Georgia Bill of Rights and U.S. Bill of Rights different/same?; If we did not have any of the Bill of Rights, how do you think the present United States would be different?; How do you overcome your conscious and unconscious bias to ensure that you are being fair and consistent in sentencing?; Why do adults get sent straight to prison and don’t get rehabilitated? We could only cover a fraction of the students’ questions in one hour, but everyone enjoyed this civics education event and the teachers reported excellent discussions afterward. We look forward to creating an event for Law Day in May 2021. Ideas are always welcome.
The National Drug Court Resource Center highlighted the CACJ operations and Georgia’s Accountability Courts in their monthly newsletter, and congratulations to Hall County Chief Superior Court Judge Kathlene Gosselin who received the inaugural Judge Stephen Goss Award. Congrats, also, to Judge Jane Morrison, who received the 2020 Randolph W Thrower Lifetime Achievement Award, and Judges William C. Randall and James Bass, who received the 2020 Commitment to Equality Awards. JC/AOC staffers were guests on the Good Judge-ment Podcast to discuss Child Support law and policy. We learned the Georgia Council of Court Administrators has started a podcast, too. We also learned that Rockdale County hosted a building dedication for their Magistrate and Probate Courts and that Rockdale County Judge Phinia Aten was the keynote speaker at a graduation for DJJ students. JC/AOC staffers interviewed City of Suwanee Chief Municipal Court Judge Norman Cuadra, our new Director of Judicial Services, Stephanie Hines, and observed a morning of socially-distanced traffic court in the Cherokee County Courthouse parking lot. The Ad Hoc Committee on Improving Community Access to Legal Resources held its first meeting this month, chaired by Justice Charlie Bethel and Judge Robert McBurney. The Committee on Justice for Children, chaired by Presiding Justice David Nahmias and the Commission on Child Support, chaired by Judge Michael Key, also met this month as did the Standing Committee on Legislation, the Magistrate Courts Training Council, and the Municipal Courts Training Council. The COVID-19 Task Force and its subcommittees continued to work and meet throughout December. The CJCP held a successful CLE led by Judge McClelland and others with some insights from Judge Dillard on judges and social media. We sincerely thank Presiding Justice Nahmias for speaking during the last JC/AOC staff meeting of 2020 when we were delighted to learn about his path to the bench and the “minivan of justice.”
Congratulations are in order to Fulton County Superior Court Judge Shawn LaGrau who will soon be sworn in as a Justice of the Supreme Court of Georgia. We also send kudos to new Fulton County Probate Court Judge Kenya Johnson; Cobb County Judges Judge Diana Simmons; Jason Marbutt; Kellie Hill; Angela Brown; Sonja Brown and Michael McLaughlin, as well as Veronica Cope who was sworn in as Gwinnett County’s newest State Court Judge, Genola Jackson who was sworn in as Laurens County’s new Probate Court Judge, and new Chatham County State Court Judges Elizabeth Coolidge and Derek White. As is common in December, we saw many other swearing-in ceremonies on social media and we send kudos to all of you—welcome or welcome once again to the Georgia Judicial Branch. Finally, we will miss Griffin Circuit’s Chief Judge Chris Edwards who is returning to private practice and we wish him well. May you all have peaceful and safe holidays.
Call on us anytime. Talk to you in 2021.
Your JC/AOC Courts Journal team: Michelle Barclay, Noelle Lagueux-Alvarez, Bruce Shaw, and our contractor, John Ramspott.