‘Lawyers don’t own judicial elections’

Tue, 08/01/2006 - 4:10pm
By: The Citizen

ATLANTA - Georgia Chamber of Commerce President and CEO George Israel July 11 condemned the remarks of the president of the State Bar of Georgia, who has recently made comments tantamount of “the involvement of business folks in the democratic process pollutes the purity of the judicial process.”

“When I first read his remarks, I was stunned,” Israel said of comments by J. Vincent Cook, an Athens personal injury attorney, former president of the Georgia Trial Lawyers Association (GTLA), and current president of the State Bar of Georgia.

“The president of the State Bar surely can’t be speaking for his members when he says ‘businessmen and women corrupt the elections of judges,’” Israel noted.

Israel, who spearheaded the passage of historic tort reform in Georgia General Assembly in 2005, said the Bar president seems content with the influence and money that personal injury lawyers have injected into judicial races in Georgia and other states, but somehow feels threatened that anyone else — other than the plaintiffs’ bar — would want to review the decisions of incumbent jurists, and decide for themselves whether or not those judges are fulfilling their sworn oath to interpret the state’s Constitution.

“Without question, in Georgia and across the nation, some judges are going way beyond their job to decide legal matters by applying the law and our Constitutions and have stepped into the legislative arena by using their position on the bench to make law.”

Israel noted that judges who serve on the Georgia Supreme Court of Appeals have been democratically and directly elected by the voters of Georgia since 1896.

“For 110 years, the people have taken seriously their responsibility to study the candidates for the high court and make an informed decision about who is best qualified to serve. If I read the comments of the Mr. Cook correctly, he no longer trusts the people of Georgia — and especially employers and job creators — to be involved in that process. He seems to think ‘only lawyers are qualified to participate in judicial elections’.”

As one Georgia Chamber member observed, Israel said, some trial lawyers like Cook seem to be saying, “The judiciary is our sandbox ... you can’t play in it!”

“Educating and informing the public about decisions of the courts and the records of the candidates is an important part of our democratic, free system of government that holds our legislators and judges accountable,” Israel said.

He added that the Georgia Chamber of Commerce is planning to produce for its members a fact-based, straightforward and objective review of civil and tort rulings by the court that impact business and economy, and to determine whether or not any members of the Georgia Supreme Court and Georgia Court of Appeals have moved into “judicial activism.”

The decision by the Georgia Chamber to do so has upset a number of plaintiffs’ bar attorneys. “If we as voters can’t judge an incumbent by his or her record, how are we to decide for whom to vote ... the better smiles, the slicker TV ad?” Israel said.

“All Georgians should be informed and involved in the political process, at all levels of government. It’s our civic duty and our responsibility.”

There is one contested race for the Supreme Court of Georgia this November; three other justices are unopposed.

“On election day, Georgians ought to look closely at both candidates, their judicial philosophies and their records and decide for themselves. No one — including some trial lawyers who act like they own the judiciary — should let this right be denied.”

login to post comments