In a post I did yesterday
entitled "Ga. Court of Appeals: Bernes, Sheffield & (not Tom, Dick or Harry) Mead, Part I. -- The prior debate, State Bar Poll; "the" questionnaire; etc.," I noted:
"With all due respect to Messrs. Bill Shipp, Phil Kent, Jim Wooten and other very knowledgeable and distinguished laymen who are very opinionated about the manner in which the Georgia electorate should choose its judges, the manner in which Howard Mead has conducted his race for a seat on Georgia Court of Appeals makes me long for the days of yesteryear."
I then noted that with respect to our judicial elections, the present represents a "current sad state of affairs."
This election year's "the" questionnaire (that is, the Christian Coalition questionnaire), for better or for worse, probably represents the epitome of elections yet to come.
You recall that the questionnaire asked the candidates about their "judicial philosophies" on U.S. Supreme Court cases dealing with five issues: abortion, homosexual conduct, prayer at public school graduations, parental choice in education and scholarships for theology majors at state colleges.
The results were distributed to 750,000 Georgians in a voter guide -- a first for the Christian Coalition in judicial races.
(The post I did yesterday
talks about how Mike Sheffield was the only Court of Appeals candidate to return the questionnaire, and how Sadie Fields notes the votes he got showed the power of her organization.
I agree, but if I were a political science major working on my masters or PhD, I would love to do my masters or thesis on the topic of whether such attention got won him the battle -- a slot on the runoff -- but ultimately lost him the war.
While the debate discussed in my post showed him to be a very pleasant and experienced person, as does his record, the press centered on one thing -- the opinions he expressed in the questionnaire. Sort of reminds one of Sonny Boy Perdue and Justice Leah Ward Sears, does it not.
Maybe the Dean will share his thoughts on this in the future.)
I do not anticipate the result of selectively responding or refusing to respond to such questionnaires to be as muted as it was this year.
(The issue of whether judicial candidates can respond to such questionnaires, along with whether they should, is covered in my earlier posts that are repeated in yesterday's post
. Whether official sounding groups should annoint themselves as a chosen few and publicly get involved in recommending such action is one of the subjects of this Part IV.)
You noted that Bill Shipp has his opinion on judicial races. I did, and he shared it in a column back in June of this year that one paper headlined "Muzzling judges subverts First Amendment
." Excerpts follow:
Are persons who interpret laws somehow more precious than those who make laws or implement them?
Yes, says an outfit with the temerity to call itself the Georgia Committee for Ethical Judicial Campaigns, composed mostly of swells from the state bar association.
They want judicial candidates to sign "don't tell" pledges -- promises not to reveal how they stand generally on pressing controversies facing society.
This is an outrage. The federal courts have said, in no uncertain terms, that candidates for judicial elections in Georgia are subject to the same First Amendment grilling aspirants for other offices endure.
Why should voters be kept in the dark about how a candidate for judge feels generally about the death penalty or homosexual lifestyles or even an unfettered press?
The Georgia Christian Coalition has sent a questionnaire to judicial candidates asking their philosophical views on a broad list of questions ranging from abortion rights to capital punishment. Most candidates for judges have declined to respond.
A gay rights group has mailed a similar set of questions and received even fewer responses.
Of course, no candidate is compelled to answer such inquiries. But neither is he or she required to sign an oath pledging to remain mute on pertinent topics.
The Committee for Ethical Judicial Campaigns wants the state to return to the bad old days when judges
-- often generous financial backers of victorious gubernatorial candidates -- were appointed without the public having the slightest idea of who these judges were or what they stood for.
A compelling case can be made that popular election of judges can lead to the same abuses as the election of other officials. Special interests will undoubtedly weigh in with millions of dollars to influence the outcome of judicial elections. Such has already happened in Texas and Alabama.
So what? Special interests (which sometimes include you and me) try their darnedest to influence elections in the legislative and executive branches. And if this silk-stocking "ethics" bunch trying to keep candidates silent is not a special-interest group, then the phrase "special interest" has no meaning.
If Georgians are unhappy with the elective method of choosing judges, then we should change the state constitution to make the posts appointive and then subject to an up-or-down referendum later. [What the Dean is referring to here is the so-called "Missouri Plan." Something new? No, it has been discussed since I started practicing law in 1973.]
Until that happens, these Armani-tailored lawyers should stand down in their efforts to subvert the First Amendment. Surely, in this era of transparency and sunshine, these kings of jurisprudence must feel a modicum of guilt as they ask Georgians to cast ballots for persons whose views are sworn to secrecy.
[I love it!!! Just think, if the Dean had been up against Clarence Darrow rather than populist William Jennings Bryan in the Scopes Trial, our state would have been spared all of the great national publicity it recently got courtesy of Sonny Boy Perdue and Kathy with a "K" Cox. Why? The Dean would have won.]
And I mentioned Jim Wooten. Interesting, but after I get through sharing with you what Mr. Wooten had to say, you are going to see Shipp, Wooten & Cottingham all agreeing on something.
That's scary -- it can't be good. It sort of sounds like that law firm I wrote about in my 09-20-04 post
entitled "I'm a lawyer too. I'm with the firm of Carter, Kahn & Cooter -- Zell's at it again (as in, a response always begets a response)."
You can't remember the law firm part? Okay, it you insist. But for the record, rather than being a law firm, "Carter, Kahn & Cooter" was supposed to represent for Zell a "Board of Deacons for Democratic Disaster." (Being a Methodist, I couldn't relate to Baptist talk, and thus the law firm talk.)
So this guy walks into a bar and sees this comely, smartly dressed woman perched on a bar stool. Naturally, he approaches her and says, "Hey there gorgeous, how are you."
Already having a couple of power drinks under her belt she turns around, looks him right in the eye and says, "Look Mac, I'll screw anybody, any time, any where, my place, your place, front door, back door, it doesn't matter. I've been doing it since I got out of college. I just flat out love it."
Eyes now wide with interest he says "No kidding! I'm a lawyer too. What firm are you with?"
Okay, back to Jim Wooten. Excerpts from Mr. Wooten current column in the ajc
And neither does the posse of lawyers that arrogates to itself the right to declare what candidates for judicial office can say to the voters of Georgia.
The group, styling itself as the Georgia Committee for Ethical Judicial Campaigns, presumes a particularly troublesome authority. It is the authority to ride the back woods and keep the good order and peace in the wild new frontier of judicial elections by deciding what judicial candidates should be permitted to say. It exercises without legal authority a parallel role to that legally vested in the Judicial Qualifications Commission.
[Amen I say; tell it all Brother Wooten, tell it all. And I am being as serious as a heart attack.]
In a pronouncement last week -- the week before Election Day -- the group declared that Mead had misbehaved.
[I left it out in my previous Part III post on the Court of Appeals race, but such pronouncement immediately made headlines, including being discussed in the ajc and Morris News Service links above. To the public, it appears as if this group has legitimacy, as if it were the Warren Commission.]
My greater concern is their legitimacy [I assume Mr. Wooten means lack thereof; or their appearance of legitimacy] and their potential to be unaccountable vigilantes who, in their zeal to do good, unnecessarily stifle judicial debate — and improperly influence election outcomes.
Howard Mead is not my choice for the Court of Appeals. I prefer a more conservative candidate — Sheffield for certain, Bernes possibly.
But all of them put their names, fortunes and reputations on the line. When they step over, or exaggerate, we don't need speech police.
Georgians have good sense. We can detect . . . . Trust us. _______________
With Jim Wooten and Bill Shipp being on the same page on this one, folks should listen up.
Jim Wooten says this group, styling itself as the Georgia Committee for Ethical Judicial Campaigns, presumes to exercise "without legal authority a parallel role to that legally vested in the Judicial Qualifications Commission." He is so right about this.
And Bill Shipp says this outfit with the temerity to call itself the Georgia Committee for Ethical Judicial Campaigns [sounds pretty dern official doesn't it?] is composed mostly of "swells from the state bar association," "Armani-tailored lawyers," and "kings of jurisprudence."
My take: The press started writing about this group this summer when news of Sadie Field's questionnaire surfaced.
When Fields and the survey's author, Atlanta attorney Jim Kelly, told the press the questionnaire is objective, the press needed someone to counter. Bang. The Georgia Committee for Ethical Judicial Campaigns.
In a 05-13-04 story in the ajc
, it is noted:
"Critics say the survey is an attempt to push the group's conservative agenda.
"The intent is clear that they want judges in their corner on their issue," said Bill Ide, chairman of the Georgia Committee for Ethical Judicial Campaigns. 'Legislators can be lobbied, but we're very concerned that judges be fair and impartial and base decisions on the merits of a case when they walk into court.'
"Ide said he would advise judicial candidates not to answer questions intended to elicit a commitment on how they would rule on an issue.
"Critics say the survey is also part of an effort to oust state Supreme Court Justice Leah Sears, who is being challenged by former Cobb County Superior Court Judge G. Grant Brantley in the July 20 primary."
And as you may recall, and in what Bill Shipp deemed an "outrage:"
"Alas, three jurists -- Supreme Court Justice Leah Sears, Appeals Judge Ed Johnson and appeals court candidate Thomas C. Rawlings -- have yielded to the committee's siren call. They have signed a document declaring, in effect, they don't believe the people have a right or need to know where they stand on public matters." (From the Bill Shipp column discussed above.)
Based on what I can tell, this group is a group because it says it is a group.
(I mentioned Phil Kent earlier in this post, and to see his role, see Part III post
on the Court of Appeals race I did yesterday, specifically the 10-28-04 ajc
article entitled "Judicial candidate's ad creates lawyer brouhaha," that notes that Mr. Kent, being a consultant for Mike Sheffield, immediately circulated the Mead "condemnation," and in a subsequent discussion, we learn the group has bylaws. Hot stuff.)
Members of the media. I don't know how you verify a story, but I understand that good rules of journalism require you get a story collaborated by a couple of other sources (something Mr. Rather should have done). Just like a police officer is asked to show his badge, check out the authority of those seemingly speaking with authority.
In this case, had Howard Mead not been so out of line, a group appearing to speak for the Georgia Bar declaring his conduct "misleading," "improper," "unethical" and being in "violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct" could have done irreparable damage.
As it was, maybe its just a little bit of reeping what you sew.
When an attorney gets something from the State Bar or a legitimate committee, it is considered important, as in having an effect on our ability to continue having the right to our livelihood, the practice of law.
Seeing something like this in the paper and floating around the "internets" detracts from the dignity of the State Bar and its solemn function.
Enough, enough. Earlier in this post I noted that given "the" questionnaire and the manner in which Howard Mead has conducted his race for a seat on Georgia Court of Appeals, it sure makes me long for the days of yesteryear.
One part of Mr. Shipp's column that I left out noted:
"As a result [of victorious gubernatorial candidates appointing judges without the public having the slightest idea of who these judges were or what they stood for], Georgia has been treated to a long list of surprises on the bench, ranging from a judge who refused to remove her hat during court to one who accepted sides of beef from attorneys appearing before him to another who believed in 'magic numbers' to help decide legal matters. As for the decisions these odd folks handed down, we'll leave that to your imagination."
The Dean is right on the above; I am familiar with the individuals described (although in South Georgia we routinely give smoked hams and a mess of fish -- cleaned of course -- rather than sides of beef -- only joking); I still long for yesteryear.
And while some how, some way, the present mess gets fixed a bit, I feel certain that for now the good Dean will join me in saying that despite our having had a few losers, Georgia has had its shares of excellent judges both on our trial and appellate courts.