Today I am proud to present to you a tribute to Congressman John Lewis written by my summer law clerk, Austin Weatherly. Austin will begin his law school journey next month as a 1L at University of Georgia School of Law. He did his undergraduate work at New York University and then spent the last few years working at Turner Broadcasting. It has been our pleasure having Austin with us this summer, sometimes in person at the office and sometimes virtually via Zoom. I have known Austin and his family most of his life and he has proven himself to be an outstanding young man, a kind and caring person who treats others as he would have them treat him. This will serve him well as a Georgia Lawyer. We know Austin is going to do great things at UGA Law and later in the practice of law. We will look forward to following his career. Now, enjoy his tribute honoring Congressman John Lewis.
My name is Austin Weatherly, and I am currently serving as Robin’s law clerk. I was born into the congressional care of John Lewis. Until his passing, he had been my congressman my entire life. To me and my family he served as an example of the hard work required by a true patriot. Lewis exhibited a brand of patriotism rooted in realizing the potential and promise of America. He dreamed of a nation framed by the constitution, and built on freedom and equality. In an effort to honor John Lewis I have prepared this brief remembrance.
This has been some week. Our Georgia Community was in the grips of disbelief and shock due to the murder of Ahmaud Arbery in Glenn County, Georgia, hoping and praying that things could not get worse…and then they did. The murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis has electrified the Nation to protest for Equal Justice Under Law for African-Americans, which is overdue by about 200 years. Because of these recent murders of African American males, the term of art “excessive force” has, unfortunately, wormed its way into our daily lexicon, heard as frequently now as “Facebook” or “Twitter” or “Coronavirus” (remember that?). So let’s look at what exactly is “excessive force,” how do you bring a lawsuit for “excessive force” and how difficult are they to be successful?
First, a civil action for “excessive force” by a police officer must be brought against the individual police officer, not the police department, pursuant to a Federal Statute, 42 U.S.C.A. § 1983. That statute states:
“Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress, except that in any action brought against a judicial officer for an act or omission taken in such officer’s judicial capacity, injunctive relief shall not be granted unless a declaratory decree was violated or declaratory relief was unavailable. For the purposes of this section, any Act of Congress applicable exclusively to the District of Columbia shall be considered to be a statute of the District of Columbia.”
As I write this, many of the headlines in the news are about the so-called “shocking” suicide of alleged child sex trafficker, Jeffrey Epstein, who, allegedly, hanged himself while incarcerated in a Federal New York prison. What is so shocking? The only thing shocking to me about this event is how the news media and on-lookers, including United States Attorney Bill Barr, think it is shocking for someone, who was known to be suicidal, predictably, takes their life by suicide. I suppose it is only Mr. Epstein’s wealth and his ties to well-known, rich, influential people, including many politicians, that makes U. S. Attorney Barr suddenly express surprise and concern that incarcerated people are attempting suicide, many successfully, when many of them should have been on suicide watch in a Crisis Stabilization Unit (CSU) or an Acute Care Unit (ACU). We can do without the mock concern on the part of the U.S. Attorney. This is happening right under his nose in prisons every day and he only expresses concern when it is a wealthy person who does it?
Jeffrey Epstein’s suicide was foreseeable and predictable. Now it is being reported that he was not on a suicide watch, even though he had previously attempted suicide less than two weeks earlier. The prior suicide attempt placed him in the high-risk category for attempting again. Coupled with the fact that he was in prison for the first time awaiting trial with an indictment list that, if proven, would keep him in prison for the rest of his life (another risk factor for attempting suicide), Mr. Epstein was high risk for suicide attempt and should have been on suicide watch.
Unfortunately, this blatant disregard for the lives of inmates who are either mentally ill or acutely psychotic ( or both) and the risk it creates for them to take their own life, is prevalent in our nation’s jails and prisons. It is particularly alarming in Georgia prisons. As recently as just last week, the Macon Telegraph issued the results of its study into prison suicides and announced that Georgia’s rate has reached crisis proportions. Between 2014 and 2016, state records show that 20 state prisoners had taken their own lives. In the nearly three years since, 46 prison deaths were deemed suicides. Georgia’s prison suicide rate — at 35 suicides per 100,000 — is nearly double the national average. Between 2013 and 2014 alone, U.S. state prison suicide rates rose by nearly a third. And Southern states including Georgia, Alabama and Texas saw even larger increases in their rates. Georgia correctional officials believe one in five people incarcerated in state prisons have a documented mental health need.
Last night I had the honor of introducing the recipient of the 2018 Stonewall Bar Association Conspicuous Service Award Winner, Judge Alex Manning. We had a wonderful evening with several hundred of my closest friends in the Fabulous Fox Egyptian Ballroom. Judge Manning gave an incredible, inspirational acceptance speech. I did not have all the time I wanted to introduce her. She has an awe-inspiring personal story and she is an example of service to her community. To further honor Judge Manning, I want to share my full introduction of her here. I am proud to know Judge Manning and proud to call her my friend. What a great night!
|ALEX MANNING INTRO STONEWALL BAR ASSOC. DINNER NOVEMBER 1, 2018 BY ROBIN FRAZER CLARK||11/01/2018|
It is my distinct pleasure and proud honor to introduce to you tonight, the recipient of the Stonewall Bar Association Conspicuous Service Award, the Honorable Alexandra Manning.
Judge Alex Manning is a Judicial Officer in the Family Division of the Superior Court of Fulton County. She presides over some of the most contentious and sensitive calendars in Fulton County, including Child Support Contempt, TRO’s and Name Changes. She consistently and with the utmost respect for the rule of law and for the dignity of all those who appear before her, Judge Manning presides with both a firm hand and compassion. Judge Manning often handles name change petitions for transgender persons. Those who are seeking gender affirming name changes are often the most marginalized in our society and so come to court, understandably, vulnerable, with fear and intimidation of the formal court procedures. Many expect a judge who has little interest in helping them achieve their goal and even less understanding of why they desire to do so in the first place. You can imagine most of their reactions when they meet Judge Manning, who treats them with the dignity and respect they deserve but which they have rarely experienced by the government. Even though in 2018 we are still seeing some Superior Court judges refusing to grant a name change to a transgendered person out of some misguided personal beliefs, Judge Manning is not only a breath of fresh air in a sometimes-stagnant environment but is also the standard bearer for how judges should treat all citizens who come before them.
Judge Manning constantly demonstrated her support of the LGBTQ community before taking the bench. As a practicing lawyer she participated on a pro bono basis as co-counsel in a same gender marriage case in Dooly County, prior to the passage of Obergefell v. Hodges, in which she was able to protect the rights of a surviving spouse married in Washington, D.C., at a time when Georgia did not recognize same gender marriages. She also represented one of the first transgender individuals in the process of playing as a competitive NCAA athlete on the team that matched with gender identity. In her practice as a family lawyer she made handling second parent adoptions for LGBTQ parents a priority, even when not all Georgia court were even permitting second parent adoptions by a person of the same gender as the original adoptive parent.
Long before her legal career, Judge Manning established herself in law enforcement. She was a pioneer as one of the first waves of female certified firefighters in DeKalb County. She then went onto become a lead narcotic agent in the Georgia Bureau of Investigations and was appointed to the Governor’s Strike Force. She then became a Detective and K-9 handler and received both a Medal of Valor and Police Officer of the Year. While obtaining her undergraduate degree from Mercer University, Judge Manning worked as Senior Investigator with the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office in the Crimes Against Women and Children Unit and also at the Douglas County Public Defender’s Office. She then went to Vermont Law School and graduated in May 2006.
I first met Judge Manning when I was introduced to her at Lawyers Club by her loving partner, Lisa Liang. Lisa had wanted us to meet after learning I had successfully represented an Army Veteran in obtaining a Presidential Pardon for his military conviction of Conduct Unbecoming an Officer. His so-called unbecoming conduct was having a homosexual relationship with another man in the Army. My client was convicted and served two years in Ft. Leavenworth Prison and then was dishonorably discharged. After six years of representing him, we were overjoyed when we received word from the Pardon Counsel in the Department of Justice that President Obama was pardoning my client. As it turns out, Judge Manning endured a very similar episode in her life. Years before she distinguished herself as a GBI narcotics agent and before she was a Medal of Valor recipient and before she was named Police Officer of the Year, and before she became a respected judge on the Fulton County Family Court bench, she was discharged from the United States Army while a private. The reason for her discharge? Failure to adapt to military standards, which is Army speak for she was gay. Judge Manning disclosed this for the first time to attendees at a Vermont Law School conference on what was then the Federal policy on gays in the military, “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (DADT). After revealing her long-kept secret, Alex began advocating for the repeal of DADT, including nationwide petitioning institutions of higher learning to ban military recruiting on campuses until DADT was repealed. Vermont Law School was one of the first to do so. Alex continued this important advocacy in Georgia until DADT was finally repealed in 2011.
Can you imagine an American citizen wanting to serve her Country and being told the only reason she won’t be allowed to do so is who she loves? Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? But, although DADT has been abolished, and although same gender citizens may now be married in any state in the United States, it would be wrong to say we are out of the woods of discrimination and we don’t ever have to worry about that again. We need look no further than to our current Administration’s constant threat to reinstitute a ban on gays and transgendered people in the military. Or the current Justice Department’s intervening in a private employment lawsuit arguing that the ban on sex discrimination in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not protect workers on the basis of their sexual orientation. Or the recent sentencing of a gay man to death by a South Dakota jury because sending him to prison for life would be sending him “where he wants to go and he shouldn’t be able to spend his life with men in prison.” The United States Supreme Court refused to grant the defendant’s certiorari petition on the basis of what was clearly anti-gay bias of the jury. Thus, you see why we must continue fighting the good fight.
In last year’s Pena-Rodriguez v. Colorado, 137 S. Ct. 855, 868, 197 L. Ed. 2d 107 (2017), Justice Kennedy wrote that “racial bias [is] a familiar and recurring evil that, if left unaddressed, would risk systemic injury to the administration of justice. This Court’s decisions demonstrate that racial bias implicates unique historical, constitutional, and institutional concerns. An effort to address the most grave and serious statements of racial bias is not an effort to perfect the jury but to ensure that our legal system remains capable of coming ever closer to the promise of equal treatment under the law that is so central to a functioning democracy.” Until we can easily substitute “sexual orientation bias” with “racial bias” in this sentence, we have not realized the Constitution’s promise of justice for all.
So, it is not hyperbole to say Judge Manning is a true American hero, for her example, for her sacrifice, for her honesty and openness, for her dedication to equality and to justice for all. She is exactly who we want on the bench, who can bring to bear her toughness forged by personal struggle but tempered with deep compassion. And it is with that courage in mind that tonight we fittingly honor Judge Alex Manning.
Please join me in congratulating Judge Manning.
Robin Frazer Clark is a trial lawyer who pursues justice for those who have personal injury claims as a result of being injured in motor vehicle wrecks, trucking wrecks, defective products, defective maintenance of roads, premises safety, medical malpractice and other incidents caused by the negligence of others. Ms. Clark is the 50th President of the State Bar of Georgia, a Past President of Georgia Trial Lawyers Association, a Past President of the Lawyers Club of Atlanta and has practiced law in Georgia for 30 years. She is a member of the International Society of Barristers and of the American Board of Trial Advocates. Mrs. Clark is listed as one of the Top 50 Women Trial Lawyers in Georgia and is a Georgia Super Lawyer.
Robin Frazer Clark ~ Dedicated to the Constitution’s Promise of Justice for All.
The United States Supreme Court will be hearing oral arguments tomorrow in a gender discrimination class action case against WalMart. The plaintiffs, female employees of WalMart, allege WalMart has been
paying women in the United States less than men for the same work and of passing the women over for promotions while only promoting men. The women plaintiffs’ march to justice has taken a mere ten years. This should show you how much courage and tenacity it takes to be a plaintiff in high stakes litigation against a large corporation. To say these women are the underdogs wins the Understatement of the Year Award. One of the original plaintiffs who first brought the lawsuit against the mega-retailer in 2001 confirmed this by explaining “I’m a fighter if nothing else, and so are all the other women that are involved,” said Christine Kwapnoski.
No doubt that these women plaintiffs are fighters. You have to be to take on one of the world’s largest corporations, who can afford the most expensive legal talent in the United States. And, to bring a claim of gender discrimination which, unfortunately, has become one of the hardest types of cases to win as a plaintiff. The case law that has developed by interpreting the application of Title VII, The Equal Rights Act, tends to favor the employer in nearly all circuits. The Eleventh Circuirt Court of Appeals, of which Atlanta is a part, has some of the most conservative opinions in the country interpreting Title VII such that only a very small percentage of these cases ever sees the light of day with a jury. The vast majority of them are thrown out of court by the trial court judge on what is called a Motion for Summary Judgment. The odds are clearly against the plaintiffs.