What is the role of a trial judge? This question may often be debated among lawyers and between lawyers and judges themselves and maybe even by law students in school, but rarely is it a hot topic discussed in the public by non-lawyers. Until now. You may be following the Paul Manafort trial, in which the trial judge has been both criticized and congratulated for his conduct in presiding over that trial. As I write this, the jury is out. By most news accounts, that trial judge, Hon. T.S. Ellis, has often made known his likes and dislikes to the jurors and the prosecution seems to be taking the brunt of the abuse. So much so, that the prosecution has filed at least two motions requesting the trial judge apologize and make it clear to the jury that his remarks are not to be taken as commentary on the strength or weakness of the prosecution’s case. Things seem to have finally boiled over when, one morning, the trial judge did just that, he essentially admonished himself to the jury for his comments and said “Put aside any criticism. I was probably wrong in that,” and Ellis said, concluding, “Any criticism of counsel should be put aside — it doesn’t have anything to do with this case.” “This robe doesn’t make me anything other than human.”
“This robe doesn’t make me anything other than human.” Think about that for a second. Who else wears a cape at work? A Super Hero? Every word that comes out of a trial judge’s mouth in front of a jury has some persuasion attached to it…some hidden meaning. Jurors often take their cues from the trial judge. If the trial judge doesn’t seem to like a certain attorney, well, guess what? The jury probably won’t like that attorney, either. Jurors may be thinking: “Who does the judge think should win? He’s the expert, he knows. Does he like the defense attorney better than the plaintiff’s attorney? Does she think the plaintiff is exaggerating? He was rude to the female lawyer…maybe he thinks she is incompetent? What will he think of us if we find for the plaintiff? And return a large verdict? Maybe he thinks that shouldn’t happen in his courtroom?” As one trial lawyer said about Judge Ellis. “He can be very dominating,” said Jim Brosnahan, a California trial lawyer who defended John Walker Lindh in the American Taliban casebefore Judge Ellis. “The interesting question is: Is it aimed fairly at both sides, or is it particularly at one side?” Also, keep in mind how extraordinary it is that Judge Ellis essentially apologized to the jury for his own comments, recognizing they may have sent the wrong signal to the jury. This is a very rare occurrence for a judge to do that.
First, let me say, that we are blessed with many wonderful trial judges in Georgia. I have tried nearly 75 jury trials in the last 30 years of practicing law, all in Georgia, and with the very blatant exception of one Superior Court judge (she knows who she is), I have always been treated with the utmost respect and courtesy by our trial judges. Even when we may disagree, we do so with civility, not taking personal shots at one another. That is not to say that some aren’t demanding, or controlling, or picky, or even temperamental. Many trial judges are all of those things, because they are human and sometimes the stress of a trial gets to them the way it gets to everyone involved or they simply see their role as being in command of their courtroom. It has been my experience that our Georgia trial judges treat all those who come before them with the civility expected out of someone who wears a robe, has her name on a courtroom and has been given the authority by the State to preside over a trial, which is often one of the most important moments in a citizen’s life.
As I work in my office, I often have livestreaming a trial or appellate arguments occurring in the Georgia Court of Appeals or the Georgia Supreme Court. I have previously blogged about the meaning of open courts and the value in being able to watch our judicial branch at work. It is your government in action and every citizen has the right to watch it and should be able to watch it. I firmly believe in it. Today I am glad to see others get on my bandwagon. CNN published an article today online that essentially agrees with my position. Given the current state of affairs with the attempted ban on Muslims by Executive Order and given the President’s attempt to “blame” the Courts for simply upholding the United States Constitution, there has never been a more important time in our Country’s history than for the people to have total access to the courts through livestreaming or video. Interestingly, oral arguments Washington v. Trump were broadcast on youtube.com although there was no video portion to watch, just audio. When our own President is attacking the independence of the judiciary, livestreaming oral arguments would be the very proof needed to show he simply does not know what he is talking about. Livestreaming oral arguments dealing with unconstitutional executive orders would dispel any absurd suggestion that courts or judges are political and are making decisions based on political pressures. It is ridiculous that our President would even suggest such a thing, when it is absolutely not true, but for any American who might for a minute believe it, they could simply watch for themselves and realize that our judges are making their decisions based on the facts, the law and the Constitution. Increased transparency promotes public participation, open government, access to information, efficiency, higher quality decision- making, and accountability. Further, transparency reduces the opportunity for corruption.
Robin Frazer Clark 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 and a Past President of Georgia Trial Lawyers Association and has practiced law in Georgia for 26 years. 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.
Do you believe that “Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there?” I have previously presented plenty of evidence that the answer to that question of whether State Farm is like a good neighbor is a resounding “no.” If you recall, in my case Eells v. State Farm, State Farm did everything it could possibly do within the bounds of the law (but outside the bounds of moral and ethical decency) to prevent its own policyholder from collecting on an uninsured motorist claim after the policyholder had paid premiums to State Farm for over 40 years. I blogged about that case, which went all the way to the Georgia Court of Appeals, where we prevailed, before it was resolved. The bottom line is that State Farm will do nearly anything to avoid paying legitimate personal injury claims, including forcing its insureds to endure a trial and potential personal exposure, rather than settle a clear liability suit prior to trial.
My son, a great lover of the sport of basketball, likes to say “The ball don’t lie.” Well, the two cases I am going to tell you about involving State Farm clearly share the theme of “the ball don’t lie,” meaning the truth ultimately comes out. Two recent trials in Georgia have placed the litigious policies of State Farm in the spotlight. The first trial was tried last month by James Robson and Robert Glass in Cobb County. The jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff for $850,000.00 after just two and a half hours of deliberation. The at-fault driver, insured by State Farm, had only $100,000.00 in liability coverage. The plaintiff’s attorneys demanded the $100,000.00 to settle the case prior to trial, even though the plaintiff’s medical bills from her injuries were nearly $170,000.00. This means any verdict for the plaintiff would be very likely to be in excess of $170,000.00. State Farm had the opportunity (and the contractual duty) to resolve the case prior to trial for the demanded policy limits of $100,000.00. The plaintiff’s attorneys gave State Farm and extension of time to decide to pay the policy limits and even had the plaintiff’s treating physician speak by telephone to the State Farm adjuster confirming for her the plaintiff required neck surgery from the car wreck. But did State Farm do the right thing? No. State offered only $22,500.00 to settle the case, even after admitting their insured was at fault in causing the wreck. The jury returned what is known as an “excess verdict,” i.e., over the policy limits, and because State Farm had the clear chance to resolve the case for policy limits, will be on the hook to pay the entire verdict. You have often heard of “frivolous lawsuits” in the media but you seldom hear of “frivolous defenses.” This case was certainly one of them.
Another was in a case tried last week in Bartow County by my good friends and fellow trial lawyers Morgan Akin and Lester Tate of Akin & Tate in Cartersville. In that case, the plaintiff pulled into a roadway after stopping at a stop sign and was struck directly in the rear by a teenage driver. The investigating Georgia State Trooper measured 229 feet of skid marks left by the teenage driver as he tried to stop before rear-ending the plaintiff’s vehicle. The State Trooper found teen driver at fault. Mom of teen driver then went to State Trooper’s supervisor with photos maintaining the plaintiff just pulled out in front of him. Ultimately, the State Trooper relented and amended the accident report changing fault to that of the Plaintiff. The Plaintiff had shoulder surgery and $90,000.00 in medical bills. State Farm took up the mom’s torch, denied all liability and hired an expert who simply ignored the skid marks. The plaintiff’s expert accident reconstructionist, Herman Hill, testified that not only did the teenage driver hit the plaintiff in the rear but was going 75 MPH+ at the time of the collision based on the amount of skid marks left by her car’s tires during braking. State Farm doubled down by asserting a counter claim. The Plaintiff made a settlement demand of 100K policy limits initially and then after extensive litigation made a settlement demand of $275,000.00 prior to trial. State Farm never made an offer. The jury returned a verdict of $300,000.00. And because State Farm had the opportunity to resolve this case within the policy limits of $100,000.00 but declined to do so, State Farm will be on the hook for the entire verdict. Can you imagine being rear-ended by a teenage driver going 75 m.p.h. and then the teenage driver tries to blame you for it?
I have just learned that Judge Horace Ward has died. He was a true Civil Rights Legend. There will never be another Horace Ward. We owe him a debt of gratitude for all he endured and accomplished. He truly left the world a better place. In his memory, I am reprinting below my letter to the Editors of the Daily Report and the Atlanta Daily World written on the occasion of his retirement in 2012. God bless Judge Ward.
You may have seen in the news a recently filed lawsuit challenging the Governor’s appointment of three newly created positions on the Georgia Court of Appeals. The basis of this challenge to the gubernatorial appointments is that the Georgia Constitution requires judges to be elected. The Georgia Constitutional provision the challengers are relying on states: “All justices of the Supreme Court and the judges of the Court of Appeals shall be elected on a nonpartisan basis for a term of six years.” While the Constitution does provide the governor with the power to appoint persons to vacancies “in certain circumstances,” those circumstances are limited in the Constitution to “death, resignation, or otherwise,” the suit said.
That language “shall be elected” seems pretty strong, doesn’t it? “Shall” has always been interpreted in legal parlance to be mandatory. No ifs, ands or buts. So the challengers seem to have a point, right? The exception to the mandatory election is only “death, resignation or otherwise.” It does not say in the case of a newly created position on the bench. Many Georgia voters may assume we elect our judges. But the truth is the Governor gets to appoint a vast majority of judges. For example, if a judge retires prior to the completion of his or her term, the Governor has the right to appoint that judge’s successor. Only if a judge completes his or her term of office until the next election will the voters of Georgia actually elect that judge’s successor. Are you wondering whether the judge in your county was elected or appointed? That information is readily available. And consider this: if the Governor appoints someone to fill a vacancy on the bench, then that person will run as an incumbent in the next election. As a practical matter, it is extremely difficult to beat an incumbent judge in Georgia. So the power of appointment by the Governor is pretty important.
Lawyers Club of Atlanta
From the President
I share with you my recent tribute to a wonderful man and judge, Judge Herbert Phipps, Chief Judge of the Georgia Court of Appeals. Judge Phipps will, at the end of this month, hand over the position of Chief Judge of the Court to Judge Sara Doyle, and so it is a proper moment to acknowledge his work and lifetime of public service and take stock in the sort of person we have had at the helm of the Court. Enjoy.
I have been extremely fortunate to have served in leadership positions in many bar organizations, and if there is one common theme to that experience, it is the intangible reward of getting the opportunity to get to know and work with some of Georgia’s greatest leaders in our beloved profession. People who, but for my work alongside them in some bar association, our paths might never have crossed. Once such person is Judge Herbert Phipps, a Past President of the Lawyers Club of Atlanta (and first African American President). When I think of Judge Phipps¸ I do not first think of his shining public service as the current Chief Judge of the Georgia Court of Appeals (the busiest appellate court in the United States, as Judge Ellington will remind us), but rather of his humanity and the example his life offers to us.
Over the years, I have enjoyed talking with Judge Phipps about his life and his place in the world. Many of these conversations happened over a drink at Lawyers Club. I would listen intently to stories told as only Judge Phipps can tell them, and then would ask him to tell one more, because they were so enthralling. It is not hyperbole to say that some of the stories Judge Phipps has told me seemed so outrageous I thought they had to have been made up. But they were all true. Running through all the stories is the common thread of Justice: Justice for the minority, justice for the disenfranchised, justice for the “little guy.” And Justice is one subject Judge Phipps knows much about. Judge Phipps was raised in Baker County, Georgia, a county so segregated that for years he didn’t realize that white children went to school, too. It was a place where racism was so open that lawyers would use a racial epithet to describe their own clients in court. While in college, Judge Phipps was active with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference during the civil rights movement. During this time he was working on voter registration in Albany, Georgia and was jailed for several days in a cell next to Dr. Martin Luther King. Judge Phipps’ only crime was being in a phone booth at night. He was never charged and was ultimately released. Dr. King shared the meals, brought to him by church ladies, with Judge Phipps. Injustice was all around him. But he could see that if one had the power of the law behind him, he might be able to turn around some of that injustice and start spreading the sweet richness of Justice, instead. So he decided to go to law school. As he so poignantly described in his address when he was named Chief Judge, “I decided that if I get ready, maybe my moment will come.” And so he got ready by becoming a lawyer. The only lawyer even willing to speak to him about a job after law school was (now famous) civil rights lawyer C. B. King in Albany, Georgia. Mr. King hired Judge Phipps and so began an historic career of service in the Georgia Bar.
If I have not yet convinced you about what kind of human being Judge Phipps is, ponder these words from Judge Phipps’s 2013 Law Day speech:
“For generations, lawyers have been at the forefront of the fight for equal justice. Yet, there is still a gap between the theory and the practice of equality. Lawyers must continue to be in the vanguard of the struggle to close that gap. While we are grateful for the gains that have been made, and for those who helped to make them, the question before us on Law Day 2013 is: What are you and I doing to finish the work that remains to be done? As lawyers and judges, we have the special training to do more public good than does a member of any other profession. This profession entrusts us with awesome power, from which flows great responsibilities. Often we will find that justice in the most fundamental sense is being denied persons in our presence, in our community, and in our state. Yet many who have the power and influence to do the right thing, and to encourage others to do likewise, will look the other way, or not even care. A good lawyer is sensitive to the injustices of society, and accepts a reasonable share of responsibility for correcting them. Obviously, one lawyer cannot right every wrong. But do not underestimate what one committed person can do to make the Dream a reality – Equality for All.”
That’s the kind of person who has led Lawyers Club of Atlanta and who may be the person you sit next to at the bar while enjoying a libation expertly prepared by Kenny Smith. Who else might you meet there? Maybe the lawyer who, after having been refused admission into the University of Georgia law school, later represented the person who integrated the college? Maybe the first Jewish lawyer to serve as President of the Lawyers Club? Maybe the first woman lawyer to win a state-wide race for a seat on the Georgia Court of Appeals? Maybe the lawyer who, as a young student at Emory University, marched against white racists and hatred in Forsyth County in the ’80’s? Maybe the lawyer who founded the Diversity Program of the State Bar of Georgia? Maybe the lawyer (now Judge) who defeated a sitting judge who would make litigants kneel in court and pray to Jesus Christ prior to trial, regardless of the litigants’ faith? Maybe the lawyer who shared a jail cell with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.? Whoever you find yourself with, as my good friend and LCA member Judge John Ellington would do, ask them “What’s your story?”
A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats,
Robin Frazer Clark
President, Lawyers Club of Atlanta
Robin Frazer Clark 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 and a Past President of Georgia Trial Lawyers Association and has practiced law in Georgia for 26 years. 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.
Lawyers Club of Atlanta
Newsletter – May 2015
From the President
The Bridge Builder
An old man going a lone highway
Came in the evening, cold and gray,
To a chasm vast, both deep and wide.
The old man crossed in the twilight dim;
The swollen stream was as naught to him;
But he stopped when safe on the farther side
And built a bridge to span the tide.
“Old man,” said a fellow pilgrim near,
“You are wasting your strength in labor here;
Your journey will end with the closing day,
You never again will pass this way.
You’ve crossed the chasm deep and wide
Why build you this bridge at eventide?”
The laborer lifted his old gray head,
“Good friend, in the path I have come,” he
said, “There followeth after me today
A youth whose feet must pass this way.
This chasm which has been naught to me
To that young man may a pitfall be.
He, too, must cross in the twilight dim.
Good friend, I am building this bridge for him.”
– Will Allen Dromgoole
When Past President Edward Krugman handed me the Lawyers Club of Atlanta gavel last May, I told you then I had some pretty big shoes to fill. And that is where I find my thoughts now as I pen my last President’s Message as your President…contemplating the shoes of others I have stood in during the last 27 years of practicing law.
I am here standing in the shoes of so many other lawyers who led and cleared the path for me and for you. As we gather in May to honor our 50-year members, which has always been one of my favorite meetings, it is appropriate that we consider those who blazed the trail before us, branch by branch, so that our path might be just a bit smoother. Here are just a few examples of Georgia Trailblazers, in whose shoes I have stood the last 27 years:
Chief Justice Carol Hunstein-1st woman Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court. Justice Hunstein contracted polio when she was two, survived her first bout of bone cancer at age four, lost her mother at age 11, married at 17, became a mother at 19, and a single mother by age 22. That same year, Justice Hunstein lost a leg to cancer and was told by doctors she had only a year to live. But that didn’t stop her from getting her law degree. She opened a private law practice in Decatur in 1977 and, spurred on by a trial judge who repeatedly called her “little lady” in open court, Justice Hunstein decided to run for the bench. She defeated four men and in 1984 became the first woman elected to the DeKalb County Superior Court. She has served on the Georgia Supreme Court since 1992.
Judge Anne Workman: When she graduated from Emory Law School less than ten percent of the class of 1972 – one hundred in number – were women, as were less than four percent of all lawyers in the nation. The downtown law firms came to the Emory campus for employment interviews with the male students, but would not interview the women students at all. Judge Workman’s first attempt to get a legal job after law school was fruitless, but she recounted it very humorously. She had always loved criminal law and wanted to be a prosecutor when she graduated from Emory. She approached the district attorney at the time about employment in his office. Judge Workman recalled: “He told me in a very matter of fact manner that there were some places a woman did not belong and that a courtroom was one of them. But that was alright because I could have a baby and he couldn’t. It was not the reasoning I had hoped to hear; but in one way it was helpful as it provided a considerable amount of focus and direction to me to prove him wrong. You take motivation where you find it. It took twelve years, but in 1985 when I was sworn in as a state court judge, I saw him and reminded him of our long-ago conversation. I remarked that I must belong in a courtroom now because it had my name on it.”
Sr. Judge Horace Ward– In 1979, Judge Horace Ward became the first African American federal judge in Georgia, having been nominated by President Jimmy Carter. He had previously served in the Georgia State Senate and as a State Court and Superior Court judge in Fulton County. Since 1993, Judge Ward served the Northern District of Georgia in senior status. He is also well known in Georgia history from his efforts to gain admission to the then-segregated University of Georgia Law School in the 1950s. For years, the Board of Regents denied Judge Ward admission to the law school, stating that the fact that no black had ever been admitted to the university was merely coincidental. Meanwhile, the Board of Regents decided to “modify” the admissions criteria by requiring that candidates take an entrance exam and that they get two additional letters of recommendation-one from a UGA law school alumnus and the other from the superior court judge in the area where the applicant resided. Judge Ward filed suit against the Board of Regents to gain admission, which, after years of delay, was eventually dismissed on the basis that Judge Ward had “refused” to reapply under the new admissions guidelines (which Ward’s attorneys had argued was yet another ploy to keep Ward out). Judge Ward decided not to appeal and attended law school at Northwestern University, from which he graduated in 1959. In what can only be described as a moment of poetic justice, Judge Ward was a member of the legal team representing Charlayne Hunter and Hamilton Holmes when they were admitted as the first African American students at UGA, thus ending 175 years of segregation at the university.
Judge Clarence Seeliger– Judge Seeliger was a trailblazer for racial justice and equality. He hired the first African American employee of DeKalb County State Courts and courageously removed the Confederate flag from his courtroom at great personal risk. Judge Seeliger made it clear that no one, not even judges, was above the law. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.” Seeliger’s life embodies that principle.
Each time a barrier is removed in the leadership of our courts, our Legislature, our profession, a door opens to a new generation of potential great trailblazers, which might include the next Horace Ward, the next Carol Hunstein, the next Clarence Seeliger or the next Anne Workman. Some very big shoes, indeed.
Please be sure to join us on Wednesday, May 20, as we honor our 50 year members who, also, have some pretty big shoes for us to fill. Come and celebrate 17 lives well lived and 17 legal paths blazed. Our 50-year members stand as beacons to promote the cause of justice, to respect the rule of law and to protect the rights of all citizens of the State of Georgia. In this example we should all take pride.
A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats,
Robin Frazer Clark,
Lawyers Club of Atlanta
Newsletter – February 2015
From the President
I sat down at the bar at Lawyers Club the other night with my good friend and Past President Hal Daniel, the sole endeavor in mind being to enjoy a cup of cheer together following a long day at the office. After we ordered our “usuals” and eagerly awaited Kenny’s expert renditions, instead of the usual “How are you doing?, Hal asked me the following question: “What have you done today to make someone else’s life better?” Intriguing. What followed was a genuine reflection of my day and Hal’s to see if we could honestly lay claim to such a noble endeavor as making someone’s life better rather than just barely making it through a hard workday unscathed and still standing and breathing.
The question brought to mind one of my favorite stories about one of my heroes, Justice Robert Benham. My service as President of the State Bar fortunately provided me many opportunities to spend time with Justice Benham and hear many wonderful stories about his life growing up in Bartow County. Before I share this wonderful story with you, let me give you a little background on the Honorable Robert Benham as a reminder and to set the stage.
Justice Benham distinguished himself as the first African American to win statewide election in Georgia since Reconstruction. In 1989, Justice Benham was further distinguished as the first African American to serve on the Supreme Court of Georgia, following his appointment by Governor Harris.
He also made history both as the first African-American to establish a law practice in his hometown of Cartersville. In what can only be described as something straight out of a movie, when Justice Benham would walk down the street in Cartersville to go to the Bartow County Courthouse, many fellow African Americans would come out of their homes and out of their places of work to follow him down the street. The shouts of “Attorney Benham’s going to court,” “Mr. Benham’s going to court” could be heard as they followed their hero, then “Attorney Benham”, to the courthouse, because they knew Attorney Benham was going there to stand up for the little guy, the underdog, which they, undoubtedly, felt they also were. Attorney Benham became for many African Americans the embodiment of justice, and although he was walking to court to represent one specific accused person, dozens of other citizens felt he was also representing them.
Justice Benham’s first lesson of service to others probably came at the hands of his mother, who insisted that he shine shoes at the local barber shop. His mother had this view that if you ever plan to lead people that you must be willing to serve them first and there’s no more humbling experience than being down on your knees shining somebody’s shoes. As she said, “If you do that you won’t be full of yourself.”
So Justice Benham as a little boy, with his brothers, shined shoes at Bob Cagle’s barber shop. As I have heard Justice Benham say, “the American Dream is that a black child from Cartersville who shined shoes in a barber shop can grow up and shine in the Halls of Justice.”
Which brings me to the story that Hal’s question to me that night at Lawyers Club brought to mind. In the Kennesaw State University Department of History and Philosophy Summer Hill Oral History Project, Justice Benham described his family’s origins for insistence on service to others. “Family meals were not optional, they were required. A blessing was said at every meal and the children, my two brothers and I, were required to say a Bible verse. We could not say the same Bible verse anybody at the table said and we could not use the same Bible verse during that week, and that was required. There was no television on, and we were the only family in the neighborhood who had a television, but you did not watch TV while you were at the family meal and you engaged in discussion. Daddy would always ask, “Well, what are you going to do today?” And then we knew what was coming next, “What are you going to do today for somebody else?” That was at every breakfast.”
“What are you going to do today for somebody else?” Quite a lesson that Justice Benham never forgot. Years later, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would say that life’s most persistent question is “What are you doing for others.” Life’s most persistent question has been the hallmark of Justice Benham’s life.
One of the hallmarks of the profession of law is a recognition that along with the privilege to practice law comes a duty to subordinate financial reward to social responsibility. We will celebrate many of our fellow lawyers who have done just that by offering themselves to public service through service on the bench at our cocktail meeting this month on Wednesday, February 18. Please come and thank our honored judiciary for their service. You won’t want to miss it.
Hal’s question was a good one to ponder and so I ask it of you, my fellow Lawyers Club of Atlanta members: What have you done today to make someone else’s life better?’
Let’s have a drink together soon at the club to discuss.
Robin Frazer Clark
Robin Frazer Clark
The easy answer to the question I pose above is an emphatic “Yes!” Right? For any homeowner to have his or her home wrongfully foreclosed upon and scheduled to be sold at auction on the Courthouse steps, as we still do here in Georgia through nonjudicial forclosures ( a topic which deserves it’s own blog), would create enormous, undue emotional stress. Your home is, more than likely, the largest purchase you have ever made and has the highest financial investment value of anything you have ever personally invested in. We call our home our “castle.” So when a corporation wrongfully forecloses on your castle, your home, trying to sell the house right out from under your homeowning feet, don’t you think this would just naturally cause you some undue stress? Worrying whether you would lose your house? Lose your biggest investment? Lose the roof over your and your family’s heads? Should whoever did so wrongfully foreclose on your house have to face justice in the form of a jury?
One would thing so, but when it comes to our ever-increasing conservative Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, the answer, unfortunately, seems to be “not so fast.” In a recent 11th Circuit opinion, the Court held although a person in such a position of being wrongfully foreclosed upon may very well have a claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress, the amount of proof one must offer just to get past the judge and get to a jury may be impossible to meet, thus ending the homeowner’s ability to seek redress for the wrong. In Lodge v. Kondaur Capital Corp., et. al, issued on May 8, 2014, the Eleventh Circuit (of which Georgia is a part) held that the plaintiffs, the Lodges, had not offered enough “proof” of emotional distress suffered by them at the thought of their home being wrongfully foreclosed upon. The Lodges, at the time, were in bankruptcy. Federal bankruptcy laws forbid foreclosure upon a home that is in bankruptcy. The Defendants in Lodge willfully violated this law, known as the “Bankruptcy stay” and moved to foreclose upon the Lodges home, even though that was the very reason the Lodges had filed for bankruptcy.
The Court found against the Lodges, denying them the right to have a jury decide their case. The Court said the Lodges hadn’t offered the Court enough proof of emotional distress. But whether there is sufficient proof of a claim should be a question to be decided by a jury, not three appellate judges. As the attorney for the Lodges, Ralph Goldberg, noted in response to this narrow opinion, “I don’t understand why anybody would not think that…hearing that your house is about to be foreclosed upon is significant emotion distress. It seems to me they’re out of touch with how normal people lead their lives.”