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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

 

Greetings, Friends!

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,

President

2014-15

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Lawyers Club of Atlanta
Newsletter – February 2015
 
 From the President

Friends:

           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.

                                    Cheers,

                                    Robin Frazer Clark

Robin Frazer Clark 

President 2014-15  

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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.”

On February 4, 2009 Justice Leah Sears, the Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court, gave her last State of the Judiciary address to the Georgia General Assembly. It is her last such address because she has announced she will be retiring from the bench in June of this year. Georgia lawyers will miss her, because of her absolute committment to a strong, independent Judiciary and to the Rule of Law. She is a true role model for all Georgians, especially young women like my daughter, Alex, who is now 11 years old, and who are looking for the way to make their mark on Georgia and future generations. Below I have reprinted Justice Sears’ entire State of the Judiciary Address.

Lieutenant Governor Cagle, Speaker Richardson, Speaker Pro Tem Burkhalter, President Pro Tem Williams and other members of the General Assembly. Ladies and Gentlemen. I am overwhelmed by your warm welcome.

Today I stand before this distinguished body for the last time as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Georgia. I am both honored and humbled. I have so many of you to thank for your years of support and encouragement. And I am forever indebted to my colleagues on the Supreme Court—my friends—Presiding Justice Carol Hunstein, former Chief Justice Robert Benham, and Justices George Carley, Hugh Thompson, Harris Hines and Harold Melton. I am also grateful to my friends on the Georgia Court of Appeals, now being ably led by Chief Judge Yvette Miller, as well as all of my other colleagues in the judicial branch.

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Below is an article that appears in today’s Fulton County Daily Report about last week’s Height of Excellence Gala, sponsored by Georgia Trial Lawyers Association in honor of Judge Anthony Alaimo. Judge Alaimo is an incredible American citizen and an amazing citizen of Georgia. We are lucky to have him on our Federal Bench and are lucky simply to have him with us here in Georgia. I hope you’ll get as much pleasure out this reading his speech as I did last week enjoying it in person.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The ‘pinnacle’ of a full career

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As a plaintiff’s personal injury trial lawyer who is genuinely concerned about maintaining the independence of the judiciary, I am proud to report the Supreme Court of Georgia is the most productive high court in the country, according to a recent study by The University of Chicago Law School. Among the 50 states’ highest courts, the Georgia Supreme Court issues 58 opinions per justice a year – more than any other state. The median is 23 opinions per judge in Kansas, and the low is 12 written opinions per judge in Oregon.

Other studies have sought to rank the nation’s high courts. But this one, entitled, “Which States Have the Best (and Worst) High Courts?” measured three areas of quality – productivity, influence and independence.

The study’s authors concluded that while no state is a clear winner in all categories, California probably has the “best high court.” But Georgia is ranked among the top five.

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