a case you’ve handled or judged and wishing you’d done something differently?
A: Any judge that lets that happen often would not last very long. I make a decision based on the evidence presented and the law that applies. There are far too many difficult decisions to make, day in and day out, to engage in second guessing.
Q: If you observed a party in your courtroom being poorly represented by an unprepared or ineffective lawyer, how would you handle the situation?
A: This question is far more complicated than you would think. Some lawyers are more capable than others. In a criminal case, if the conduct of the lawyer was so bad that in retrospect the ineffective assistance would have changed the outcome, then a judge should grant a new trial. In civil cases, the attorneys are all hired by the parties. I sometimes see lawyers who are not adequately prepared. But I am not allowed to interfere with the attorney-client relationship. I have never seen a judge stop a hearing to tell a
party that their lawyer is unprepared and I have never done that. If a lawyer is impaired by drugs or alcohol, I do not allow them to conduct business in front of me. I once sent a lawyer home one morning and gave the person a ride there with a deputy sheriff.
In death penalty cases, a judge is supposed to make sure the defense attorneys are qualified. For instance, I would not allow my opponent to be lead defense counsel in a death penalty case, since she has no experience trying such cases.
Q: What in your life keeps you grounded or is a foundation for your beliefs about justice?
A: I have been a lawyer since 1980. The practice of law is not something everyone can engage in. I have my family and friends and my hobbies that are not legally related to keep me grounded.
Law schools do not teach “justice.” We practice in courts of law, as Justice Holmes once pointed out, following the course the law requires. In the past, I have had to rule in ways that the law required, while at the same time not personally liking the outcome. That’s required of you as judge
in our system. If you can’t do that, you can’t function as a judge.
Q: Can you describe an accomplishment that you’re especially proud of?
A: I’m most proud of being the father of two wonderful children and grandfather to four.
Q: Who are some of the people from history who have most deeply influenced your thinking about justice?
A: I was a history major in college. There are a number of people who stand out as great thinkers in the legal field. But I prefer the practical hands-on approach. My most important mentor was former Superior Court Judge Paul Painter. Judge Painter took time to talk to me when I first started practicing law and I have never forgotten his advice.
Q: Is there a book that has deeply influenced your thinking?
A: I enjoy reading
and have read a lot of history over the course of the years. I’ve read a number of religious and philosophical texts. I have been influenced by many readings.
Q: What is one way in which you would like to see the court system change?
A: Locally, we need a system of case assignments so that one judge keeps a case from the date of its filing.
The Georgia Legislature is responsible for setting our laws and the budgets that Superior Court judges have to work with. They also provide places to send people that have been convicted of felonies. The state of Georgia needs to do much more to provide treatment options for people addicted to alcohol or drugs. We simply don’t have enough places to send defendants that can’t pay for treatment.
Q: Do you have any