COVID-19 Update: How We are Serving and Protecting Our Clients.

Articles Posted in The Legal Profession

Friends:

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.


Thomas-Weatherly-2-e1595541262175-269x300

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. 

Mediation
The global pandemic has caused many state legal systems to declare a judicial state of emergency. The state of Georgia is currently under state of emergency protocols that are set to last through August 11, 2020.  When jury trials will restart in Georgia is any one’s guess. I just received a new Order from the Chief Judge of the Northern District of Georgia, Hon. Thomas Thrash, dated July 10, 2020, extending the Federal Judicial Order through August 30, 2020. In his Order, Chief Judge Thrash stated:

Data from the Georgia Department of Public Health reflects that the average number

of new COVID-19 cases per day in the State of Georgia has increased and remains higher

sars-cov-19-300x140
desktop-225x300
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.

benham
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!

Image result for contract
I have been recovering from hip replacement surgery (my second) these last two weeks and have watched a lot of daytime television while keeping my leg elevated and ice on my hip.  Although I have enjoyed the short sabbatical, I hate that it came only through the necessity of having a new hip implanted. But I am doing very well and expect to be back in my office next week!

One thing that I won’t miss  is watching so many lawyer ads on TV. I do not believe they improve our image as plaintiff’s personal injury lawyers and for lawyers like me who actually try jury trials, it is perfectly clear that our jurors hate these ads. I just recently tried a medical malpractice trial in DeKalb County (which resulted in a $2.35 Million verdict for my client) and many of the perspective jurors during jury selection talked about how they didn’t trust lawyers because of the ads they see on TV and generally, because of these lawyer ads, they were suspicious of our bringing a personal injury case to trial. I had to do a lot of work in jury selection to make sure those potential jurors understood I didn’t advertise and that my case they were about to sit on was a legitimate case in which my client’s mother had died due to medical malpractice. I hate that right out of the gate I had to deal with some other lawyer’s advertisement on TV, like the person in an ad who claims her lawyer got her $900,000.00 and she doesn’t even look injured!

One of the things I have noticed while being forced to watch these TV lawyer ads, is that most of them proudly promote that they don’t get paid unless you get paid, as if they are the only lawyers in the State of Georgia who will boldly make that promise.  Although their statement is true, they are not the only personal injury lawyers who don’t charge a client for their time unless and until they win or settle a case for the client. In fact, as far as I know, ALL plaintiff’s personal injury attorneys, in Georgia and the entire United States for that matter, make the same deal as these TV advertising lawyers who act like they have the monopoly on this arrangement. It’s called a contingency fee agreement and all personal injury lawyers use one to be retained to work for a client on a personal injury case. Please understand that the statement made by TV advertisers about this says absolutely nothing about their skills, ability and experience as a trial lawyer.  We all work under this arrangement.

holdinghands-300x225
Friends:

Many of you know that during my presidency of the State Bar of Georgia in 2012-2013, I  made mental health of attorneys, and their family members, a primary concern. I have taken every opportunity presented to make us more aware of the stresses that attorneys face just in their daily practices and the toll that has on them and their family. We created the “How to Save a Life” Suicide Prevention Program and we know we have been successful in preventing some attorney suicides. But we also know we need to continue to effort. Often, an attorney reaches out to me about a partner in the firm, or a partner reaches out to me about his son, or counselors reach out to me to see how they can help. I am also thankful and proud that Jonathan Ringel, the Editor of The Daily Report, graciously gives me and others space in the newspaper to write about suicide prevention and to keep the conversation going. This is the only way we will eliminate the stigma of mental illness that prevents so many from reaching out for help. And help is easily available, through our Lawyers Assistance Program (800-327-9631) and the State Bar’s Lawyers Living Well Initiative.  The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is  1-800-273-8255.

And so I was honored to be asked to participate in a podcast on the mental health of lawyers by Miles Mediation. Both Editor/Journalist Jonathan Ringel and Stacey Dougan, a lawyer turned therapist, joined in the discussion as moderated by Miles neutral, Bianca Motley Broom, and CMO, Marcie Dickson. I urge you to listen and to share with your family members, friends and colleagues. It will be worth your time. And just by listening, you may save a life.

IMG_8631-e1541186192760-225x300 IMG_8632-e1541186213686-225x300 IMG_8649-e1541186235702-225x300 IMG_8650-e1541186259475-225x300

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

Good Evening.

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.

 

IMG_2708-e1534434011387-225x300
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.

IMG_2708-e1510598114612-225x300
Some recent headlines about trial judges behaving badly and a recent bad experience I personally experienced at trial last week have me thinking about this:  what should you expect from a trial judge?  Competency?  Fairness?  Mercy?  Understanding? Knowledge of the rules of evidence? Impartiality? Experience? Ability to stay awake during the trial? Maybe all of the above?

I only half-jokingly included in the desired traits list above the ability to stay awake on the bench.  Just this week an Illinois appellate court ruled that the fact that the trial judge slept through some of a murder trial did not automatically result in a reversal of the conviction or warrant a new trial.  That sleeping jurist claimed he had not actually fallen asleep but was simply resting his eyes. “If I was not looking at the video, that does not mean that I was not listening and hearing everything that was being said,” said O’Connor, who called the motion “disgusting,” according to a transcript cited in the appellate ruling.  So Justice may be blind but it doesn’t have to be awake?

The question of what should we expect in a trial judge also has been hotly debated this week when the Senate Judiciary Committee approved a judicial appointee of POTUS for a Federal trial bench opening in Alabama. The reason for the outrage among lawyers about the judicial nominee is the fact that he is only 36 years old, has never tried a case and has practiced law for only 3 years. Many have called him “clearly unqualified” to take the trial bench and that his appointment is “laughable”. He has literally never tried a case!  Can’t we all agree that to be able to preside competently over a trial by jury, make life-changing decisions of what evidence gets in and what evidence doesn’t, decide whether a litigant receives a constitutionally protected fair trial, that the trial judge should at least have tried a case before?

Awards
American Association for Justice Badge
Georgia Trend Legal Elite Badge
State Bar of Georgia Badge
Georgia Trial Lawyers Association Badge
ABOTA Badge
LCA Badge
Top 50 Women attorneys in Georgia Badge
Super Lawyers Badge
Civil Justice Badge
International Society of Barristers Badge
Contact Information