Van Pelt

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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

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