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Articles Posted in State Bar of Georgia

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Ever since I began the Georgia State Bar’s Suicide Prevention Program back in 2012 when I was President of the State Bar of Georgia, I have been advocating for the need for more mental health services provided during an emergency.  For longest time, all U.S. citizens have had available to them for an emergency is to call 911. This is, without question, an extremely valuable service to have when you need help from the police or fire department. But is hasn’t also proven helpful when what you have is really a mental health emergency. There have been numerous examples of incidents here in Atlanta in which, in my opinion, had there been a mental health emergency number available instead of just 911, a life would not have been lost.

The police shooting of Scout Schultz, a Georgia Tech student, is a prime example. Scout was a fourth-year computer engineering major with a minor in biomedical engineering at the time of his death.   Scout was fatally shot September 16, 2017, after approaching officers with a knife and saying, “Shoot me.”  A Georgia Tech officer who had not had mental health training shot Scout, even though Scout was yards away from him and couldn’t possibly hurt the officer with a knife from that distance.  The officers needed mental health training on how to deescalate and handle a mental health crisis someone is going through instead of shooting that person. Had we had a 988 available then, perhaps Scout would still be with us.  The same can be said for the police shooting of Nygil Cullins, who was having a mental health crisis at Fogo de Chao in Buckhead. Rather than handing it as mental health crisis, as it obviously was, the Atlanta Police shot and killed Mr. Cullins.  What is truly sad is that his mother had tried to get emergency transport for her son to a mental health living facility by calling 911 and waited for two hours. She had even called Riverwood Behavioral Health Center ahead of time to make sure they had a bed available, and told 911 dispatchers she would follow police there and fill out the paperwork when they arrived. She said “all you have to do is transport him.” Mr. Cullins waited with his mother for two hours without any help from 911 and, ultimately, left for Fogo de Chao, without mental health intervention. The Atlanta Police, rather than sending a mental health team, sent armed police officer who handled the situation by shooting and killing Mr. Cullins. Another life lost senselessly and one that 988 may have saved.

So I am thrilled that we now have available to us 988 for mental health crises. “If you are willing to turn to someone in your moment of crisis, 988 will be there,” said Xavier Becerra, the secretary of the federal Department of Health and Human Services, at a recent press briefing. “988 won’t be a busy signal, and 988 won’t put you on hold. You will get help.”  I pray this is true.  The primary goal of the new number is to make it easier for people to call for help. Lawmakers and mental health advocates also see this launch as an opportunity to transform the mental health care system and make care easily accessible everywhere in the United States. The Biden administration has invested more than $400 million in beefing up crisis centers and other mental health services to support the 988 system.

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I recently had the honor of attending the dedication of the portrait of Justice Harris P. Hines and the portrait’s official installation at the Nathan Deal Judicial Center in the Georgia Supreme Court Courtroom. Justice Hines and I were good friends, and his beautiful wife, Helen Hines, remains my good friend. Helen spoke at the dedication and said this about her husband of 46 years:

“Harris will be remembered as a judge and as a justice who loved people, and served the citizens of Georgia. He will be remembered for how he touched the lives of others, traveling throughout the state for over four decades. He spoke to civic clubs and legal groups, delivered introductions and invocations, taught continuing legal education courses, judged mock trials and debates, moderated panel discussions, counseled anyone who sought his guidance or advice — greeting people with sincerity and warmth. He never seemed to tire of talking — I’m on stop right there. He never seemed to tire of talking — to them, and inquiring about their lives and their families. He cared about individuals and treated them all with respect and fairness. Hard work, courtesy, integrity and kindness are the real legacy Harris leaves,” she concluded.

Chief Justice David Nahmias spoke. Former Chief Justice Harold Melton (now private lawyer) spoke and said this about Justice Hines: “Everybody here knew and loved Justice Hines, and everybody has the same impression of him and of his kindness,” said Troutman Pepper Hamilton Sanders partner Harold Melton, who succeeded Hines as chief justice and was his close friend, though they were 23 years apart in age. But Melton said for this occasion he wanted to remember Hines as a lawyer.  “It’s appropriate that we also talk about his legal legacy and his commitment to the fidelity of the law, how painstakingly he pored over the law and how determined he was to get it right,” Melton said.

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I reaIMG_63761-225x300d with great interest a recent report from the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline that showed a reduction in suicides attributable largely to a song by music artist Logic. That song’s title is “1-800-273-8255,” the hotline number for the suicide prevention lifeline. As a result of this song, number of calls to the lifeline were up while numbers of suicides were down. The correlation to the song was proven by tracking these numbers during three time periods: the first 34 days after the song’s release, Logic’s performance at the 2017 MTV awards and an additional widely promoted performance at the 2018 Grammy Awards.  “1-800-273-8255” is a beautiful song, and if you are not familiar with it, I urge you to take three minutes out now and listen to it.  It starts with a young person saying he doesn’t want to live anymore, that he just wants to die. Then other voices enter the song and essentially talk to the young person and stay with him until the feeling he needs to die by suicide passes. Finally, the young person sings:

I finally wanna be alive, I finally wanna be alive

I don’t wanna die today, I don’t wanna die

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Oyez, Oyez! Oyez!  All persons having business before the Honorable, the Supreme Court of Georgia, are admonished to draw near and give their attention, for the Court is now sitting. God Bless the State of Georgia and this Honorable Court.  May it please the Court.

Yesterday, I was honored to speak in the Georgia Supreme Court as part of the Court’s 175th Anniversary Celebration. The Celebration began Wednesday evening with a lovely dinner at The Commerce Club.  Thursday was a full day of seminar on the history of the Supreme Court and biographies of various former Justices. I spoke about the creation of the State Bar of Georgia in 1964, which was approved by the Georgia Supreme Court and five years later held to be Constitutional in two separate cases. It was one of the highest honors of my career. I am sharing with you below my presentation.

We are very fortunate to have the Georgia Supreme Court and the State Bar of Georgia, which, together, protect your rights to live in a Just society, grounded in the Rule of Law, so that all may reap the benefits and rewards that our system of Justice provides.

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Having spent several days at home for the Holidays, I was struck (and not in a good way) about how many commercials there are on TV for personal injury lawyers. It is NON-stop. And the same goes for social media, where plaintiff’s lawyer after plaintiff’s lawyer is shown in a video bragging about themselves. It’s sickening, and I don’t think these commercial appearances enhance our reputation at all.  Just the opposite. So I thought I would take a moment to list a few things that a person like you who has recently been injured due to someone else’s negligence should consider before hiring one.

  1. How many cases has the lawyer actually tried for a plaintiff in front of a jury?  I have seen some young lawyers bragging online about their one awesome verdict, which begs the question: How many cases have they actually tried?  Have they tried only one case and it came out well for the plaintiff?  Potential clients should ask this question. In 32 years of practicing law, I have tried over 75 jury trials to verdict, some lasting 2-3 weeks. This is critical information. Hopefully, as a plaintiff, this is the only case you will ever have in your life. If it were surgery, would you want a doctor who had performed only one surgery before yours?  Or would you want one who had done  100 of them?
  2. Is the lawyer on TV even licensed to practice law in Georgia? I am constantly amazed by the fact that some of the TV advertising lawyers are not even licensed to practice law in the State of Georgia. This means they haven’t studied and worked with the laws of our state and they certainly haven’t tried a case in a state court of Georgia. You have a right to know this and you can easily find this out by going to the website of the State Bar of Georgia at https://www.gabar.org/.  On the home page there is a search box titled “Member Directory.”  This is a resource available to the public and you can put a lawyer’s name in it and see whether they have a Georgia law license. You can also see where the lawyer went to law school and see what year he or she graduated from law school, which tells you how much real world experience the lawyer has. It also tells you whether there is any “discipline” on record for that particular lawyer, which means whether that lawyer was ever found to have violated the ethical or professional rules of conduct. This is crucial information everyone should have before hiring a plaintiff’s personal injury lawyer.

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We received some sad news this Thanksgiving weekend about a dear friend.  Justice George Carley had died.

Many tributes are now coming in about Justice Carley. One, from Judge William Ray, (U.S.D.C.,Northern District of Georgia) touched me and let me know we had similar relationships with Justice Carley. The Georgia Supreme Court, from which he retired, also paid tribute to him and I urge you to watch it.  These tributes reminded me of my relationship with Justice Carley that I now share with you in memory of him.

Justice Carley was a proud “Double Dawg,” meaning he graduated from both undergraduate school and law school at The University of Georgia, often referred to as just “The University,” as if there were no others.  He is the only person to have served as both Presiding Judge and Chief Judge of the Georgia Court of Appeals, and the Presiding Judge and Chief Judge of the Supreme Court of Georgia.

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Friends:

To say we are experiencing unprecedented times with the global pandemic of Coronavirus-COVID-19 would be a massive understatement. I hope you and your family are well, staying safe and healthy and weathering this storm. I am continuing working on all of my cases to the maximum extent I can at my home. With remote work capability, super high-speed internet and my case management system “in the Cloud,” I can work on any case from any location. I want to let you know how our Georgia Civil and Criminal Justice Systems are adapting to this season we find ourselves in and keep you up to date on all things legal in Georgia right now.

First, the Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court Harold Melton has issued a Statewide Judicial Emergency Order through 11:59 a.m April 13, 2020.  I believe Chief Justice Melton has shown great leadership with the issuance of this Order and through it, is doing the Court’s part in not spreading the virus in our courtrooms and alleviating much anxiety among litigants and lawyers.

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Today marked the last day on the job for Justice Robert Benham. That “job” being no less than serving on the state’s highest court, the Supreme Court of Georgia. A true pioneer, he was the second African-American graduate of UGA law school and the first to serve on the Georgia Supreme Court. He is retiring after 36 years on the appellate Courts (5 on Georgia Court of Appeals and 31 on Supreme Court). Appointed by Gov. Joe Frank Harris in December 1989, he was the first African-American ever appointed to the Supreme Court in its more than 140 years.  He  served in the United States Army Reserve attaining the rank of captain, and served as a trial attorney with Atlanta Legal Aid among many other professional accomplishments.  A lifelong resident of Georgia, Justice Benham was born to Jesse Knox Benham and Clarence Benham in Cartersville, Georgia. He obtained a B.S. in Political Science from Tuskegee University in 1967 and also attended Harvard University. In 1970 he obtained his Juris Doctor from the University of Georgia, Lumpkin School of Law. He obtained Master of Laws degree from the University of Virginia in 1989.

As a tribute to Justice Benham, I am sharing my remarks from the 2013 Justice Robert Benham Community Service Awards.  Prompted by concerns about the decreasing number of lawyers in leadership positions in public and community service, then Chief Justice Robert Benham in 1996 created a Community Service Task Force under the auspices of the Commission on Professionalism.  Composed of leaders of the bench and bar in Georgia, the Task Force determined to encourage, support, and recognize within the profession the tradition that all lawyers perform community service and measure their success in ways other than just financial gain.  To accomplish its purpose, the Task Force created the Justice Robert Benham Annual Awards for Community Service in partnership with the State Bar to honor lawyers and judges from the ten judicial districts of Georgia who have made outstanding contributions in the area of community service.  Since 1998, the Commission has coordinated the selection and presentation of these Awards.

Justice Benham, to say you will be missed on the bench is an understatement. I will always think of you with great love and admiration.  You are the ultimate role model for any lawyer.  The hallmarks of your career and life are integrity, kindness, compassion for others and  wisdom. You deserve only the best in your retirement. Godspeed!

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I had the privilege of being asked by the newly inducted State Bar President, Buck Rogers, to deliver the Invocation at the 269th Board of Governors Meeting held this past weekend on Saturday, June 10, 2017 at The Westin Jekyll Island.  It was, of course, my honor to do so.  I have had many requests for a copy of the invocation, including from President Rogers himself, so I thought I would share it hear with all of you along with my sincere best wishes to President Rogers for a wonderful Bar year.

INVOCATION at the State Bar Annual Meeting

JUNE 10, 2017

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