DA Ballard is a man of principles, compassion and the highest ethics

Tue, 07/08/2008 - 3:54pm
By: Letters to the ...

I’m about as conservative as I can be, which means that to some degree, I’ve drifted away from the direction that the national party has seen fit to move since 1988, when Ronnie left office. I believe in true conservative principles in economics; in social programs; in national defense; and in crime and punishment issues, which is the main topic of this letter.

I’ve been a practicing trial attorney for 15 years. My early career found me representing defendants in criminal court. Having come from a very law-abiding and order upbringing, I had to first wrestle with my own biases and prejudices before I could honestly represent an accused in a criminal forum. I was pro-death penalty, pro-harsh penalties for violent crimes against people, and more specifically, children; so I had to first examine my own principles and ethics to be sure that I could represent those accused in a manner to which the law allowed.

It didn’t take me too long to find that I could proudly stand as a conservative and still help defend some of the worst of our society. It was not a pleasant experience meeting some of the more violent and evil people in our nation, but, I discovered two major reasons why I could do so and do so anchored in the foundations of my political faith.

The first hurdle I faced was to embrace the Constitution as if it were my Bible. I read and re-read thousands of cases, studied the best of the legal scholars, and then went first-hand into the jails and courthouses of our criminal justice system, and I found that I could unashamedly and proudly stand on my personal political convictions while fervently defending the accused ... even when I knew they were guilty.

I could morally do this without reservation when I read our Constitution and of our Bill of Rights. They were more than words written upon a paper some 200 years ago. Words have no meaning unless we give them the force of our convictions, and toward that end, I was enthusiastically defending my clients from being held accountable to a standard that was not found in our laws.

Plainly stated, my job as a defense lawyer, was to insure that the state and judge followed the rule of law. Which brings up my second reason of how I came to terms in being a conservative and in being a criminal defense lawyer.

What I found in our judicial system, throughout Georgia, was that the state had the authority to prosecute and punish the accused, but they did so by employing ordinary human beings to serve that purpose. Yes, ordinary human beings, who bring with them ordinary human perspectives, which sometimes ... well, often times, got in the way of justice being served.

Prosecutors and even judges are no different than you or I, with this exception, that they are sworn to uphold the laws of the state of Georgia and of our U.S. Constitution above and beyond their secondary purpose, which is to convict and punish criminals. You read that right: Justice is the purpose of the justice system, not to prosecute criminals unless this serves a “just” cause.

I know what I am writing may offend many of you. I know I’ve grappled with this my entire legal career, but, there are many prosecutors and judges that do not need to be prosecuting cases whatsoever. They are rogue warriors, who find that the Constitution often stands in the way of their vigor to prosecute and to punish. Sometimes these motives are sincere, e.g., when a criminal case of an obviously guilty individual teeters on the admissibility of one small piece of evidence that was illegally obtained by the prosecution or police.

The pressure from the public is to convict, convict, convict, while their oaths of duty require justice, justice, justice. For a prosecutor or a judge to allow a obviously guilty man to go free on a constitutional technicality is to suggest they are soft on crime, a charge that resonates easily among the voting public. No judge or prosecutor can allow the charge of being soft on crime stand, the electorate will see to that.

I can not explain to you every time I came across an injustice that was actually perpetrated upon my clients under the guise of a prosecutor or judge who has forgotten their oaths. They are too many to count. I KNOW I’ve had several clients who were falsely accused and convicted of crimes they did not commit (some serving life sentences. John Grisham’s fictional novels have no comparison to many of my real cases.)

I know that from my personal experiences, which cannot be conveyed in a letter to the editor, but its true. The news repeatedly reports on DNA testing, unknown 15-20 years ago, now being used to prove the innocence of many men who refused to admit their crimes, thus insuring their continued presence in prison. (Acknowledgment of one’s crime goes far in parole hearings, and many of these innocent men refused to admit their guilt, even when freedom was about one word away. Are you guilty of this crime? Yes.)

I’ve also known several good friends who crossed over to the prosecution and who became intoxicated with the power of punishment. They literally held in their hands, the very life of the accused. For many, this thrill is almost like a drug. The need to prosecute and punish takes precedent over their duty to seek justice. They forget all else except feeding their egos by weighing in their hands the lives of those they have been charged with prosecuting.

A former prosecutor and continued friend, explained it to me in embarrassing terms. She said it was the most exciting thing she had ever found. She became so ensconced in her belief that these criminals were all guilty, that she rarely considered their possible innocence. She lost all of her former friends and colleagues who shunned her because she arrogantly believed she was the final arbiter of all that was right and just. She told me her head almost exploded from the ego trip she was on.

It takes a lot of courage and discipline to take the reins of being a prosecutor and to do so under the restraints of our Constitution. Criminals should be prosecuted and should be punished, but, and this is the hard part, they should be prosecuted fairly and consistently with the model of our Constitution as the standard of proof.

A slick voter pamphlet that trumpets the number of cases tried and won, or appeals upheld, sounds good to the voters, but it does not take into consideration those underlying issues, rarely seen by the public. To be a true and honest prosecutor requires the most strongest of characters, whose concern for the “perspectives” of the voting public is never, ever considered.

That’s the kind of prosecutor and judge that we need in Fayette. Judge Rowland Barnes, who was murdered in his courtroom in Fulton County two years ago, was a dear, dear man. I routinely had been before him, and I found him to be one of them most compassionate judges I’ve ever been before. I often wondered how he kept his personal feelings from doing his job. Many of his decisions might have been criticized for being soft on crime, but I found him to a man of conviction and of principle, who was “hard on our Constitution.” He made sure that in his courtroom, the Constitution was all that mattered, so he often did things that might have offended the average voter, but, he allowed his sworn oath to be his only consideration.

When I read about all of the negative comments online and in these campaigns about Scott Ballard, I am saddened that I do not have the ability to convey how very important it is that our elected district attorney is a man of principle, of compassion, and of the highest ethics.

Scott has done several things which were not politically “expedient,” no doubt, but I personally applaud him for standing up for what is right and for what is fair, rather than for appeasing a public which cannot fully appreciate every reason why this case or that case wasn’t prosecuted the way certain bloggers or readers believe it should have been.

Scott left a very profitable and comfortable private practice to take a position of trust, making much less than he made in the past. He saw a need and he knew he could bring to the district attorney’s office the experience and character of a DA that prosecuted criminals for the sake of justice, not in spite of it.

That, citizens of Fayette, is sorely needed today in our criminal justice system. The sworn oath and allegiance that our district attorney, and judges, prosecute only with the authority and mandate of a just system predicated upon the laws of our state and country, and embedded in our Constitution.

Many of my political friends will perhaps mockingly describe me as having found a liberal streak in me in this opinion letter. For that I am sorry. Because I know how very hard it is for us to read about the many cases of crime that are being perpetuated across this state and nation where obviously guilty men go free and unpunished.

But, worse still than that, is when we allow personal egos and political whims to dictate our justice system, rather than a stoic and disciplined approach to seeking justice in all matters.

One merely look back one year, to the DA in North Carolina who followed the political winds of the public, when he violated every oath of office in attempting to prosecute the Duke lacrosse team. Lives were shattered all because this DA found it politically expedient to ignore his oath of office and to seek punishment rather than to seek justice.

Those falsely accused from Duke deserved the protection of the Constitution which was required of that DA; instead they found his decisions to be politically motivated so that he would not be accused of being “soft on crime.” He resoundingly won re-election with his stance that he was “hard on crime.”

Mr. Ballard’s opponent may very well be a talented trial lawyer, and even a better campaigner. He may very well do an exceptional job as DA. I’m just wary of anyone who wants and seemingly needs that much authority. Quitting from the DA’s office, and then purchasing a home in this district, so as to allow him to run, sounds almost desperate and calculating, two qualities that a DA shouldn’t have.

Fayette County deserves better. Our Constitution demands it, I certainly hope our voters will as well.

P.S. I do not nor have I had any criminal cases before either of these prosecutors. I abandoned criminal defense work almost seven years ago. My passion still remains with our Constitution, and the fundamental belief in its most wonderful rights given to all of us. This letter was merely an attempt at trying to explain in a perspective not often heard from in today’s public debates, about the very real and apparent need that we have in our justice system firmly grounded in our U.S. and state constitutions by men and women of character, integrity, and conviction. Traits, I have unfortunately found lacking across the hundreds of cases I handled in my earlier career.

Richard D. Hobbs

Attorney at Law

Fayetteville, Ga.

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sniffles5's picture
Submitted by sniffles5 on Wed, 07/09/2008 - 7:45pm.

"Prosecutors...convict and punish criminals."

Man, and all these year I have believed that it was a JURY'S job to convict criminals. Silly me!

Glad to see Mr. Hobbs got a quality legal education at the John Marshall School of Law, Cosmetology and Auto Repair! Laughing out loud

Submitted by ada222 on Wed, 07/09/2008 - 4:23pm.

I am a long-time prosecutor, and your letter was not only offensive, it leads me to believe that you have no idea what a prosecutor actually does. You speak of prosecutors being "intoxicated with the power of punishment." As a former defense attorney, you should know that prosecutors don't choose the sentence a defendant receives. That lies solely within the judge's discretion. We have the DUTY to make a plea recommendation, but the judge sets the punishment. How can a person be "intoxicated" with a power they don't have? You state that a prosecutor's secondary purpose is to convict and punish criminals. Actually, it isn't. Again, we don't have the power to convict. That "power" lies with either a judge or a jury, unless the defendant decides to enter a guilty plea. Prosecutors are not only bound by the Constitution, we are also bound by the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct. If you refer to Rule 3.8, Special Responsibilities of a Prosecutor, you will see that there is no mention of being required/expected to convict or punish. However, that rule does give each prosecutor the responsibility to be a "minister of justice." Justice isn't just about the defendant - it's about the right result being reached in the right way. Sometimes justice results in a proper conviction and a long prison sentence. Prosecutors are held to a much higher ethical standard than defense attorneys. Defense attorneys don't have to seek true justice - you just have to try and get your client acquitted.
No one is saying that Mr. Ballard is "soft of crime" because some of his convictions have been overturned on appeal. That doesn't make him soft on crime, but it may mean that he doesn't know how to properly prosecute a case. There's a difference between cases being reversed because the judge or law enforcement made an error, and cases that are reversed because the actual district attorney screwed it up.
You say that the District Attorney should be someone who has a "disciplined approach to seeking justice in all matters." If you read Rule 1.11 of the Rules of Professional Conduct, you'll see that a lawyer who leaves private practice and becomes a public officer SHALL NOT partcipate in any matter, including a judicial proceeding, if that lawyer participated in the case while in private practice. Scott used his position as District Attorney to testify for a former client, and testified about matters that he handled for that defendant when Scott was in private practice. The conflict of interest is too obvious to excuse. If he just wanted to be a personal character witness for a fellow church member, then there was absolutely no reason to point out to the judge that he was an elected District Attorney. Most importantly, the felony obstruction warrant against that exact same former client is still awaiting prosecution by Scott Ballard. Right after he took office, Scott managed to recuse himself in numerous cases where he would have been called upon to prosecute someone he had represented in the past. Multiple prosecutors from outside jurisdictions were brought in to handle those matters. It does not appear that he has taken himself off the Jeffery Allen case. The fact that Allen is serving time for the probation violation does not and should not delay the Fayette County case. There is a system in place whereby defendants can be transported from any state prison to any local jail to face unresolved charges. Does that meet your definition of a DA who is "standing up for what is right"?
The only rogue prosecutor in this race is Ballard. He is desperate to explain his legal mistakes and errors in judgment, and the excuses he has tried to put forth have been calculated to try and keep him from being defeated on July 15. He may not be a bad person, but he is a bad prosecutor. ALL of the counties of this circuit deserve better.

Richard Hobbs's picture
Submitted by Richard Hobbs on Thu, 07/10/2008 - 9:51am.

I'm not going to debate with you on all of the semantics of your comments. I believe my letter was written in consideration of the audience. I did not think I should or could explain every nuance of what prosecutors and judges do. My general purpose was to emphasize the importance of having prosecutors who do their jobs with honor. To run an office as a political office, praising and condemning certain political hot buttons for which the average voter is not privy, is both disingenuous and down right pathetic.

Again, I no longer practice defense work. I loved it and hated it. I hated that my clients did not find justice as often as they should have. I hated it, when the prosecutors encouraged witnesses to lie, by changing their testimony immediately prior to trial, once they found my client had absolutely proof of their witnesses' lies.

I hated it, when a judge refused to except a reasonable plea, which forced a trial. The defendant lost, so he threw the book at him. When I won on appeal, and had to retry the case, the judge and prosecutor's "indignation" was somewhat appeased, and now instead of talking about 70 years in prison, they are glad to offer probation. I never figured out how a judge's boredom factor could effect justice, but it does. This has happened to me on several occasions. One means to get your client a better deal, was to wear down the prosecution or judge with motions after motions. They grow weary and then agree to change their position on what justice means. Effectively, justice became what the judge wanted at any given moment, which changed every day.

I remember negotiating a drug case with a prosecutor one day. He offered me a deal that I thought was reasonable, but I was pushing for a better deal. When I noticed a cigar on his desk. I mentioned it to him, and asked what kind it was. He proudly stated that it was a Cuban. I embarrassingly reminded him that Cubans were illegal in the US. He ignored the comment, continued his discussions with me, and carefully and discretely removed the cigar to his desk drawer. I guess justice means something different depending on what side of the desk you are sitting.

Again, I've seen so many, many injustices that it made me sick. Mind you there are excellent judges out there and excellent prosecutors. But when arrogance and personal political whims dictate how and who we punish, rather than our law makers, then I'm very disappointed.

I've read about how so many criminals got probation in the newspaper. My God! How can that happen? I mean, certainly the law would not have probation as an option in a case like this? But it does, and for very good reason. Every case is not exactly alike. If you and Rudjard are so very interested in punishing criminals, why not lobby your State Senators and Representatives to completely remove probation as an option, rather than grandstanding upon the false inferences you give when you repeatedly scream about how certain offenders were given probation, as if something nefarious has happened.

I suspect you are very young and likely you feel proud of the job you do. That's a good thing. But take the blinders off. Ordinary men and women prosecute and judge these cases. To make sure that justice is served, we need Extra-Ordinary men and women. People who act with honor and stoic discipline to the Constitution.

I could go on and on about all of the injustices I've seen in my short criminal career. The time a judge told me after a jury took seven minutes to acquit my client, that he knew the jury would never convict. I scratched my head and asked (to myself) then why would you not throw out the case sua sponte, which was his part of his oath? Rather than allow an innocent man to stand in harm's way before a jury for a crime he knew that he was not guilty of? (Sad to say, I overall thought very highly of this judge.)

Or the time, an officer testified in a motion to suppress. He lied his ass off. He knew that I needed the truth to win, so he lied. Everyone knew he lied. Especially when I brought in the radio traffic of the event, and could absolutely prove that the traffic stop did not occur the way the officer said it happened. The prosecutor knew it, and even apologized later to me. Instead of giving me 5 years to serve, the prosecutor gave me probation. Why? because on appeal, they knew I'd win, and that they would have no admissible evidence to convict.

As a defense lawyer, my highest and greatest concern was to look after the best interests of my client. My ethics required that I do this under very strict scrutiny. Which meant, I never ever encouraged my clients to lie or fabricate the truth. But I could argue with passion, a perspective of the evidence presented to the jury, which might not have been my real opinion, but was instead, a perspective which was helpful to my client's case. Ethically, that was never a problem, because the law anticipated this adversarial role and allowed for it.

But prosecutors and judges are not given this same latitude. They goal is not to win. Their goal is not to put people behind bars. Their purpose is to seek justice, period. Sometimes that means a very aggressive prosecution of a case, but, it never means that they need abandon truth, compassion, and an unbiased review of all of the evidence, rather than a blind ambition to convict without consideration for the truth.

Every case is different. Every case deserves it's very own consideration. If not, then why do we need a DA? Why not just let the police make the arrest, tell a judge what happened, and then let the judge open a law book with but one sentence for each crime and allow him to literally throw the book at him?

Because every case is unique. Every case needs to be reviewed by an honest and moral individuals who do not fear the possible political ramifications. Sure, sometimes Scott Ballard and every other DA in Georgia will make a mistake. But I hope that these mistakes are made because of compassion, rather than naked ambition. Too many innocent men have gone to jail, because of that naked political ambition, and when a candidate seems to use that naked ambition to get elected, I'm pretty sure he'll use it when he gets elected.

Good luck to you on your career.

P.S. By the way, the real reason you do not give your name, is political. It has nothing to do with the truth of your conviction, but with your overall concern with your political future. Mind you, I understand why, but again, the truth of what you say needs not be hidden under the guise of an annonymous poster, but deserves the light of scrutiny.

Submitted by Stan1234 on Wed, 07/09/2008 - 5:37pm.

You claim to have a lot of inside information about the DA's office and claim to be a long-time prosecutor. Richard signed his name. Why don't you sign yours? Put some credibility behind your claims - or some may think your Rudjard in disguise.

Submitted by ada222 on Thu, 07/10/2008 - 6:44am.

I have been interested in this race for a while - a lot of prosecutors are watching this one. I have never posted online like this, but Mr. Hobbs' letter was offensive to a lot of prosecutors. Several of us read it, and I felt like I had to respond. My information comes from working at an office where some of Ballard's conflict cases were sent. I've also read the entire transcript of Ballard's testimony, and read as many articles as I can find about this. This topic has been discussed at length among real prosecutors, and I haven't met one who approves of the way Ballard handled it.
Since the truth is important to me, I need to note that one of my fellow prosecutors has corrected one thing about my reponse. Apparently Ballard did eventually send Allen's felony obstruction charge to a different office, but it was after the infamous character testimony for Allen. The felony obstruction charge was reduced to a misdemeanor. However, that charge was still open when Ballard testified for Allen - still an obvious conflict of interest.
I'd love to tell you who I am, but I can't right now since I know a lot of prosecutors are following this race and reading about this issue. I might want to apply for a job in the Griffin Judicial Circuit, if the right person gets elected.

ilockemup's picture
Submitted by ilockemup on Wed, 07/09/2008 - 4:48pm.

Free Instruction for Cal Beverly on Prosecutors.....The above should be a good start for you to better understand the duties of a prosecutor and the Oath of Office. You would be better served to refrain from relying on television shows as your source of information.

Its the conflict of interest, Cal, not the friendship, that counts. The testimony in the Allen case, for a former client, and for a Defendant that he would separately be called on to prosecute was an abuse of power.

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