Now you've gone and done it! So I'll give Matilda a hand!

State's highest court isn't for purchase

Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Georgia has seen its share of corporate takeovers -- Atlanta-based BellSouth absorbed by AT&T; Georgia-Pacific swallowed up by Koch Industries. Now we're about to see an attempted corporate takeover of a very different target: the Georgia Supreme Court.
The immediate goal is the ouster of Justice Carol Hunstein, who has served on the court for 14 years (she was appointed by then-Gov. Zell Miller, who is backing her bid for re-election.)
Hunstein hasn't been unfriendly to corporate interests, but she hasn't been obedient either. So, following a pattern that has worked in other states, business groups have formed what they call the Safety and Prosperity Coalition to defeat Hunstein in November, hoping to use her as an example to force the remaining Supreme Court justices to toe their line.
Of course, a political campaign attacking Hunstein as too protective of the little guy against big corporations probably wouldn't work very well with voters. So coalition members have instead decided to depict Hunstein as an extreme liberal who is soft on crime and criminals. The line of attack was laid out explicitly in a fund-raising letter mailed in July by Hunstein's opponent in the nonpartisan race, attorney Mike Wiggins.
In that letter, Wiggins noted that conservatives have taken control of the legislative and executive branches of Georgia government, leaving the judiciary as conservatism's "last frontier." He described Hunstein as "far and away the most liberal member of the court on the ballot" who adopts "an extremely liberal interpretation of virtually any question that comes before her." Furthermore, Wiggins says, she has "an almost singular focus on undermining the work of prosecutors in criminal cases."
(Wiggins also cautioned that any charge that he might be politicizing the judiciary "is, of course, absurd.")
If true, Wiggins' indictment of Hunstein's performance would probably be enough to persuade Georgia voters to replace her. But if false, it would suggest that Wiggins plays too loose with the facts to be trusted in the state's highest court. (Wiggins has no experience as a judge and little or no experience in the courtroom. He has spent the last five years as a political appointee in the Bush administration.)
Fortunately, two nonpartisan studies of Hunstein's voting record on the court are available, and both reach the same conclusion. Far from having "an almost singular focus on undermining the work of prosecutors," Hunstein has ruled more often on behalf of prosecutors than almost any other member of the court.
The Fulton Daily Report, a local newspaper covering the courts and the legal community, analyzed Hunstein's votes in 99 criminal cases that divided Georgia's top court. It found that Hunstein "sided with the government 39 percent more often than did the court as a whole."
A law review study of Georgia death penalty cases from 1998-2003 reached that same conclusion, stating that Hunstein "has one of the most conservative voting records on the bench," having sided with the prosecution in 75 percent of the death penalty cases to come before the court.
Clearly, the charge that Hunstein is somewhere to the left of Teddy Kennedy is a fraud. The real reason she has been targeted is to pack the court with justices who will protect a business when it is sued for such things as product liability, workers' compensation and malpractice. Nonetheless, the Safety and Prosperity Coalition plans to hammer Hunstein as soft on crime by spending $2 million or more against her.
Because the group is an independent committee, it can accept unlimited contributions. It has already collected $50,000 from DaimlerChrysler, $25,000 from the American Insurance Association, and $100,000 from the Georgia Medical Association.
According to forms filed with the state Ethics Commission, the coalition had raised barely $300,000 as of Sept. 30. But in an interview Wednesday, H. Eric Dial, the group's chairman, didn't seem discouraged. He has the backing of influential leaders in the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, and it's likely that big money will pour into the race late, to minimize public attention to contributors.
Dial described the members of his coalition as "numerous groups interested in civil justice reform who represent hundreds of thousands of Georgians, as well as victims, victims groups and people interested in a more victim-friendly judiciary."
Coalition members interested in "civil justice reform" -- in other words, judges friendlier to corporate interests -- are glaringly apparent. But I was curious about which victims-rights groups had joined Dial's coalition.
"Oh, multiple groups," Dial said.
I asked for the names of just one or two.
"Multiple groups," Dial finally repeated. "I'm not at liberty -- I don't know that they want their names used."
It's hard to know what to make of that. Maybe those groups don't exist. Or maybe they just don't want their names publicly associated with such an effort. I wonder why that would be.
• Jay Bookman is deputy editorial page editor. His column appears Thursdays and Mondays.
Financial supporters
Major contributors to the Safety and Prosperity Coalition, created to oppose re-election of Georgia Supreme Court Justice Carol Hunstein.
Georgia Medical Political Action Committee..$100,000
Georgia Hospital Association ................$50,000
Independent Agents of Georgia PAC............$50,000
American Insurance Association ..............$25,000
Coca-Cola Bottlers Association ..............$25,000
Source: State Ethics Commission

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Submitted by spandishgirl on Mon, 11/05/2007 - 8:11pm.

Please go vote for people who want to help you and not use us as a stepping stone to higher ambitions. Please look at how a lot have been run over. I only hope that you will vote and I know that you will see who has been there pushing for the little guy's rights, no Jonnie come lates who play baseball. We elected a buss driver that thought the office was just charity and delagated the job to someone we never voted for or had our best interest at heart. Please look at Young, Shenkle and Rehnwalt, and know they have alway been there for you and took a lot of heat. They did it because some people can not bear to see others walked on, also, in their hearts they know it is the right thing to do. They will never sell you out.

Submitted by oldbeachbear on Mon, 11/05/2007 - 4:47pm.

Judge hopeful hit by ethics charge
Donation complaint targets high court candidate

A complaint filed Wednesday with the State Ethics Commission charges that Georgia Supreme Court candidate Mike Wiggins, his campaign committee and a group called the Safety and Prosperity Coalition are "engaged in an illegal and coordinated effort to improperly influence the outcome" of the Nov. 7 election.

Former Bush administration lawyer Wiggins, 53, of Atlanta is running against incumbent Justice Carol Hunstein, 62, of Decatur, a 14-year veteran of the court and its presiding justice.

The Safety and Prosperity Coalition, according to its Web site, was formed largely to guard Georgia's 2005 tort reform, limiting liability for businesses when they are sued, from erosion in the courts. The group, which could channel unlimited funds into television ads and other efforts to influence voters, supports Wiggins and had raised a reported $318,500 by the end of September. Last week, it began airing its first ad, a pro-Wiggins spot, on network TV.

Georgia law limits contributions to Supreme Court candidates to $5,000 per donor. The same rule doesn't apply to independent committees, such as the Safety and Prosperity Coalition. Under Georgia law and ethics rules, independent committees may advocate for the election of specific candidates, but they are forbidden to coordinate their efforts with those candidates or to give money to their campaigns.

The 14-page complaint alleges that the Safety and Prosperity Coalition is improperly connected to Wiggins, "having recruited him to be a candidate, promising him substantial financial support, supplying his first campaign manager, and otherwise consulting with him on message and strategy."

The complaint, by Atlanta lawyer Gary B. Andrews, says "under the guise" that it is an independent committee, the Safety and Prosperity Coalition has accepted as much as $100,000 from a single source to run TV ads supporting Wiggins.

Late Wednesday, Wiggins' campaign manager Briscione in a written statement called the complaint "utterly false and based on untrue statements from a disgruntled former employee who has been paid thousands of dollars by Justice Hunstein." He did not identify the employee.

Rick Thompson, executive secretary of the Ethics Commission, said the commission will review the complaint and decide within two days if it merits investigation.

ERIC DIAL, CHAIRMAN OF THE SAFTETY AND PROSPERITY COALITION, would not comment on the contents of the complaint late Wednesday afternoon but said: "We're not surprised by the filing of an ethics complaint this late in the campaign season. Sadly, it's another politically motivated, politically driven attempt coming from the same group of people who have taken liberties with the truth about our organization in an attempt to smear the Wiggins campaign."

In the complaint, Andrews asks the Ethics Commission to order the Safety and Prosperity Coalition to stop advertising or other activities and preclude Wiggins, his campaign, the coalition, and "all those acting in concert with them from communicating, directly or indirectly, about the campaign or the Supreme Court election."

Attached to the complaint, as an exhibit, is a copy of an e-mail sent in June to Wiggins' wife and a Wiggins campaign worker before Wiggins was to attend a gathering of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce's governmental affairs council. In it, Liz Young, treasurer of the Safety and Prosperity Coalition, advised Wiggins -- who apparently at the time intended to run against Justice Hugh Thompson rather than Hunstein -- that he needed to be ready to explain his choice of opponents, according to the complaint.

Young wrote that his "answer cannot be that she is a one legged, Jewish female from DeKalb County with a lot of money in the bank and Zell as her campaign chair."

Young could not be reached through coalition chairman Dial late Wednesday.

Wiggins' campaign manager Briscione said in his written statement, "Mike and his wife obviously disagree with the derogatory comments in these emails sent by individuals not associated with the campaign, and we are disappointed that anyone would attempt to hold them responsible for the views of others."

Hunstein, who lost her left leg to cancer 40 years ago, said in a recent interview that she is Christian.

Former Georgia Gov. Zell Miller, who appointed Hunstein to the Supreme Court, is a co-chairman of her campaign.


Submitted by oldbeachbear on Mon, 11/05/2007 - 4:50pm.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The (GA)

Hanging tough

She's survived polio, poverty and two bouts of bone cancer. Georgia Supreme Court Justice Carol Hunstein is used to fighting. She says she'll never be the same after a bruising battle for re-election.

Her limp is barely detectable, whether Carol Hunstein is in her black justice's robe walking to her seat on the Georgia Supreme Court or in blue jeans lugging bags of pine bark through her yard. It only hints at tribulations that shaped one of the state's most powerful women.

Hunstein, 62, was sworn in Friday for her third term on Georgia's highest court.

This year, she survived a bruising campaign against a challenger whose supporters spent more than $1.5 million to unseat her. They bombarded television viewers with ads painting Hunstein as soft on crime.

Hunstein, a justice for 14 years, punched back with one of the most ferocious ads of Georgia's political season, saying challenger Mike Wiggins' mother sued him for taking her money and that he threatened to kill his sister. Wiggins, a former Bush administration lawyer, called the ad cruel and false. Moments before a televised debate between the candidates, he refused to shake Hunstein's hand.

Hunstein wasn't done. She called in support from prominent Georgia prosecuting attorneys, who appeared in a TV ad for her and scoffed at the notion that she is soft on crime.

On Election Day, Hunstein won 63 percent of the vote, and all 159 Georgia counties.

"I'm tough," she says, sitting in her Decatur family room on a recent morning. She is 5 feet 3 inches tall, and the campaign whittled 12 pounds from her small frame.

Hunstein lives in a spacious ranch house, her home of 21 years, on about an acre of land. She has a prosthetic leg, but it never kept her from painting her house, digging a pond or replanting a tree. Pink roses from her garden burst from a vase on the kitchen counter.

Her face is kind yet steely at times, and this is one of those times. The election, she says, wasn't about her; it was about protecting the judiciary from the influence of special interests.

Insurance companies, automakers, the medical industry and others contributed heavily to an independent effort to defeat Hunstein. Their aim: to protect Georgia's tort laws limiting how much businesses must pay in damages if they're sued.

The campaign against her also drew support from Republicans, including Gov. Sonny Perdue -- who swore in Hunstein on Friday. Court races officially are nonpartisan in Georgia, but Wiggins ran as a Republican.

"If they thought I was just going to let them take it away from me, I mean, they picked the wrong Supreme Court justice," Hunstein says. "It's just not in my character. I fight back for what I think is right."

Critics: Rulings hard to predict

Hunstein's critics, however, say plaintiffs' lawyers who supported her for re-election also represent a special interest. And they say her rulings are hard to predict.

"You want predictability in the law," says Todd Young, policy director for the Sandy Springs-based Southeastern Legal Foundation. The conservative public interest law firm now is studying proposals with state lawmakers to alter the state's highest court.

"Not pro-business, not anti-business, just predictable," Young says. "Then everybody understands the ground rules."

Wiggins and several key supporters last week declined to be interviewed about the election or Hunstein. Eric Dial, chairman of the Safety and Prosperity Coalition, an independent committee that raised more than $1.67 million to unseat Hunstein, had little to say except to comment on Hunstein's ad against Wiggins: "I thought it was unbecoming of a Supreme Court justice."

Hunstein was practically born fighting back. Her perseverance would see her through life-threatening illnesses, discrimination, abandonment and poverty. Her grit would be her ticket to success.

"She's the type of person that fights for the little person," says her son, John Abate, 43. "Because I think that's how she really sees herself. We came from having nothing."

Carol Wycoff was born Aug. 16, 1944, in Miami. Before she turned 2, she was diagnosed with polio.

Her childhood was riddled with surgeries and lonely hospital stays because of the polio and then something more ominous. When Carol was 4, her older sister was carrying her through her aunt's house and dropped her -- so hard that Carol's leg broke. X-rays revealed a tumor in her left ankle.

She had bone cancer.

Doctors wanted to amputate, but her father wouldn't let them. He fainted when doctors set his daughter's leg, and he refused to return to the hospital again. It was 1948. Carol underwent extensive radiation treatments and more surgery. She rarely saw her mother because her mother had other children to take care of. Doctors and nurses were her only regular visitors.

"Although it's not necessarily what I would have chosen, I think all of the events that have happened in my life have helped me be who I am," Hunstein said. By the time Carol was 11, her parents were divorcing. Then her mother, Mary, died.

Still, Hunstein cherishes some childhood memories. Her father would take her duck hunting in the Everglades. "That's the reason I'm not afraid of snakes or just about anything else," she says, laughing.

Because of the surgeries as a child, Carol had some noticeable difficulty walking. When she was about 15, she tried to get a part-time job as a telephone operator. She aced the written test, but the employer worried about her climbing the stairs to the phone room. Carol offered to arrive at work early and walk up alone, and to leave late, using the stairs after everybody else. She didn't get the job.

Her father discouraged her from going to college. "Women don't need to go to college," he told her. He said she could go only if she paid her own tuition, bought her books and paid him room and board. He urged her to get married and start a family instead.

She finished high school and married at 17, and gave birth to a boy at 18. Three years later, her husband abandoned them, and he never paid the court-ordered $20 a week in child support and $5 a week in alimony, she says. With no job and no health insurance, she sometimes went hungry. Then her left leg started to ache.

She was 23, and the bone cancer was back.

At a charity hospital in Miami, doctors amputated her left leg below her knee. They fitted the cast with a pipe, as a calf, and a shoe to walk on, then sent her home.

(Years later, Hunstein had dinner with the surgeon who performed the amputation. He told her he had saved her leg from the knee up, arguing with doctors who had wanted to amputate more: "She's not going to live a year. We might as well let her dance.")

When she returned to the hospital to have her stitches removed, she lucked into a conversation with the man in charge of the hospital's vocational rehabilitation program. She was a good candidate, he said, for a state program that would pay for college tuition and books. She attended Miami-Dade Community College, then Florida Atlantic University, in Boca Raton, where she earned a bachelor's degree in marketing in 1972.

Her son remembers answering their home phone when he was about 8. It was "the hospital calling just to see if she was still alive, and they were surprised," he says. "Her will was what kept her dying from the bone cancer.

Good jobs were scarce for women and for people with disabilities. She found work in Miami as a receptionist and administrative assistant at an off-the-rack couture shop, still barely making ends meet. Her son recalls times when they ate eggs, bread and milk for every meal.

Law school: a ticket out

Hunstein kept looking for a way improve their lot. An occupational profile test she had taken in college had said she would make a good military officer or lawyer. The idea of either career was daunting, but she pressed ahead. She attended law school at Stetson University, in DeLand, Fla., supporting her son with Social Security benefits after her former husband died. She graduated in 1976 and was admitted to the State Bar of Georgia that November.

At Stetson, she had met her second husband, Ralph Hunstein, who became her law partner after they moved to Atlanta. Hunstein & Hunstein handled civil litigation, along with some criminal defense work. "I used to go to the Fulton County Jail and get a misdemeanor case assigned on a Monday, and I'd get a free breakfast that the inmates cooked," Carol Hunstein says. "And hopefully I would dispose of the case by that Friday." Because then she would get paid. "And the practice just kind of built from there." The Hunsteins had two daughters, Krista and Gabrielle, before they divorced in 1990.

In 1984, spurred by a judge who called her "little lady" and otherwise derided her in open court, Hunstein ran for election to the DeKalb County Superior Court. "If you weren't part of the 'in' group of attorneys, then you and your client weren't necessarily treated the same," she said.

Her campaign slogan was, "This time, this woman." She promised voters she would apply equal justice and treat everyone with dignity and respect. She defeated four male candidates, becoming the first woman elected to that bench. When Judge Hunstein arrived for work, the only robe available was a man's small. "That'll be fine," she joked with court staff, "as long as it's pink."

It didn't take her long to establish herself with her colleagues. They elected her president of the Council of Superior Court Judges of Georgia. She was the first woman to hold the position. She also chaired the Georgia Commission on Gender Bias in the Judicial System, which brought about a change in the law so that rape victims no longer had to pay for their own rape evidence kits.

In November 1992, then-Gov. Zell Miller had a vacancy to fill on the Supreme Court after the death of Chief Justice Charles L. Weltner. Miller chose Hunstein over four other finalists, making her the second woman on the court. (Earlier that year, he had tapped Leah Ward Sears.)

"How she [Hunstein] grew up and how she survived and how she overcame hardships, that is most appealing," Miller says. "And when you put that with a very, very fine mind along with the record that she had as a Superior Court judge, it made it very easy to choose her."

Hunstein was elected, without opposition, to full terms in 1994 and 2000.

Christopher J. McFadden, an appellate lawyer who has argued many cases before the court, says, "It's clear from her demeanor and from making eye contact with her from the podium that she is paying close attention to both the legal issues and human consequences of the cases before her."

Justice Robert Benham, who has known her since the beginning, calls Hunstein a quick study with "an abiding faith in the concepts of fairness." Although they have disagreed on cases, "she has the ability to see all sides of an issue. And she reserves judgment on an issue until she has had a chance to thoroughly analyze the issue before the court," he says.

"I admire her not just for the position she holds but the journey that has brought her to this position," Benham says. "She has weathered the storms, and she has made a wonderful jurist."

Hunstein's youngest daughter, Gabrielle, 25, says her mother "reiterates that you have to cherish what you have, and you have to live life to the fullest, and you can't dwell on things that don't go your way. Negative things just have to be overcome."

As a justice, Hunstein has participated in more than 5,000 cases and written more than 600 opinions, according to her campaign literature. Supporters say she is known for being tough on repeat criminal offenders, deadbeat parents, perpetrators of domestic violence and lawyers who break criminal and ethical laws.

Now she's known for something else: She can play hardball politics.

"I don't think I will ever be the same," Hunstein says, reflecting on the campaign shortly before standing up to leave for work.

"It has, if anything, increased my strength, my own self-confidence. I said in '84 that I trusted the voters of the state of Georgia. And I trust them now."

Georgia Supreme Court Justice Carol Hunstein, who was appointed by then-Gov. Zell Miller, was sworn in for a third term on Friday, weeks after weathering a bitter campaign. A poster from the hard-fought campaign is below.


Submitted by 404 on Mon, 11/05/2007 - 4:57pm.

Keep it up! It makes you look crazy!

Submitted by sickandtired on Mon, 11/05/2007 - 4:59pm.

We've seen it for weeks. They've fell completely out of the the porch...and rolled down the hill. Now they've all got boo-boos.

dudleydoRIGHT's picture
Submitted by dudleydoRIGHT on Mon, 11/05/2007 - 5:02pm.

have to do with Tyrone. Tis old news.

Submitted by oldbeachbear on Mon, 11/05/2007 - 5:01pm.

I'm gonna save that for tomorrow night when you guys loose! Ha Ha

Submitted by oldbeachbear on Mon, 11/05/2007 - 4:59pm.

I didn't post this but once, and I'm not the one that went after the Judge and got their butt kicked.

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