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Deal sgns Adoption Reforms Into Law

Gov. Nathan Deal today signed HB 159, legislation sponsored by Rep. Bert Reeves, to enact comprehensive reforms to Georgia’s adoption code.

“In this exceptional state in which so many choose to work, learn and create a home, we continue to value the cornerstone of our society: the family,” said Deal. “Today, I signed HB 159 into law, finally bringing much-needed reforms to our adoption laws and making it easier for adoptive parents to create a loving family in our state. This critical and bipartisan bill streamlines the adoption process and updates Georgia’s adoption laws for the 21st century. The work leading up to today has been years in the making, as we last updated these laws when I was in the state Senate, a full generation ago. With the signing of this bill into law, we are giving children, including the 13,500 children in foster care, renewed hope for a forever family.

“Many individuals played a role in this process and I appreciate the General Assembly’s focus on what truly matters: the well-being of our youngest citizens. I especially want to thank Rep. Bert Reeves for sponsoring this legislation and advocating for its passage throughout the legislative process. At times, even the best of ideas to better serve children require a tireless champion to make it across the finish line, and Bert has been that individual. The children in this state who yearn for a forever family are today closer to realizing their dream because of his determination.”

HB 159 passed the House on Feb. 1 with a vote of 168-0. It passed the Senate on Feb. 5 with a vote of 53-2.

“HB 159 represents the first major update of Georgia’s adoptions laws in almost three decades,” said Reeves. “With HB 159 being signed into law, families across our entire state will enjoy a more efficient and dependable process of adoption. This will reverse the unfortunate trend that we have seen, adoptive parents going to other states to adopt. This new law will also benefit the thousands of children, from newborns to foster children, who are in need of a loving, permanent home. This new law represents three years of work by the Georgia Council of Adoption Lawyers, Superior Court Judges, adoption agencies, and many others. The General Assembly worked hard to pass this very meaningful legislation, and the support received by Gov. Deal, Speaker Ralston, and Lt. Gov. Cagle was critical to the success of the bill. The signing of this bill into law is the proudest moment of my professional career, and I know that literally the lives of thousands of Georgians will be positively impacted for decades to come. This new law will help grow Georgia families.”

2018 State of the Judiciary Address

LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR CAGLE, SPEAKER RALSTON, MEMBERS OF THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY, MY FELLOW JUSTICES, JUDGES OF THE COURT OF APPEALS, JUDGES OF THE OTHER CLASSES OF COURTS, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN.

THE YEAR 2018 WILL BE A YEAR OF GREAT CHANGE AND GREAT PROMISE FOR OUR STATE.  WE WILL ELECT A NEW GOVERNOR AND LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR, AND WE WILL SAY AN APPRECIATIVE GOOD-BYE TO A TRULY OUTSTANDING LEADER, GOVERNOR NATHAN DEAL. AND BECAUSE AT MY CORE I AM A SON OF THE LAW, I WISH TO THANK TWO LAWYER-REPRESENTATIVES, WENDELL WILLARD AND RICH GOLICK WHO WILL RETIRE FROM THE HOUSE THIS YEAR, FOR THEIR SERVICE TO OUR STATE.

BY THIS TIME NEXT YEAR, NEW FRESHMEN LEGISLATORS WILL WALK THE HALLS OF THIS BEAUTIFUL CAPITOL BUILDING, AND WILL HAVE TAKEN THEIR SEATS AMONG MANY OF YOU SEASONED SENATORS AND REPRESENTATIVES, AND WILL JOIN WITH YOU IN MAKING THE DECISIONS THAT DIRECTLY IMPACT THE LIVES OF ALL GEORGIANS.

2018 WILL ALSO BE A YEAR OF CHANGE AND PROMISE FOR THE THIRD BRANCH OF GOVERNMENT, THE JUDICIARY.  THROUGHOUT GEORGIA, MANY NEW JUDGES WILL DON THEIR ROBES OF OFFICE FOR THE FIRST TIME.  OUR CITIZENS WILL ELECT A NEW JUSTICE TO OUR SUPREME COURT.  AND, GOVERNOR DEAL WILL MAKE HIS FIFTH APPOINTMENT TO THE COURT.

THE MEMBERS OF THE SUPREME COURT WILL CHOOSE A NEW CHIEF JUSTICE, WHO WILL LEAD GEORGIA’S JUDICIAL SYSTEM.  AND I’LL GIVE YOU A HEADS UP, THE SMART MONEY IS ON MY GOOD FRIEND, PRESIDING JUSTICE HAROLD MELTON.

I AM CONFIDENT THAT WHEN I LEAVE THE BENCH AS GEORGIA’S CHIEF JUSTICE AT THE END OF AUGUST, AFTER A LEGAL CAREER THAT BEGAN IN 1968, GEORGIA’S JUDICIARY WILL BE STEADY, STRONG, AND SITUATED TO BECOME THE BEST IT HAS EVER BEEN.

ON BEHALF OF THE JUDGES OF GEORGIA, I THANK YOU SENATORS, REPRESENTATIVES, AND GOVERNOR DEAL FOR YOUR SUPPORT OF GEORGIA’S JUDICIARY.  YOUR BELIEF IN AN INDEPENDENT, NON-PARTISAN, AND NON-POLITICAL THIRD BRANCH OF GOVERNMENT HAS BEEN MANIFESTED BY THE CREATION OF ADDITIONAL JUSTICES AND JUDGES FOR OUR STATE’S TWO APPELLATE COURTS; BY PASSAGE OF LEGISLATION THAT HAS MADE BOTH GEORGIA’S SUPREME COURT AND COURT OF APPEALS MORE EFFICIENT, PRODUCTIVE,  AND EFFECTIVE IN INTERPRETING AND CLARIFYING THE LAW; AND BY RECOGNIZING THE HARD WORK OF THOSE WHO SIT UPON GEORGIA’S BENCHES OF JUSTICE BY REWARDING THEM WITH APPROPRIATE AND APPRECIATED COMPENSATION.  CONSTRUCTION HAS ALREADY BEGUN ON A MAGNIFICENT STRUCTURE THAT WILL BE THE FIRST STATE JUDICIAL BUILDING THAT IS DEDICATED SOLELY TO THE APPELLATE COURTS OF GEORGIA.  EACH AND EVERY JUSTICE OF THE  SUPREME COURT AND EACH AND EVERY JUDGE OF THE COURT OF APPEALS RECOGNIZES FULL WELL THAT WE ARE BEING GIVEN A BUILDING WHICH WE DID NOT TOIL TO BUILD, BUT WHEREIN WE ARE PERMITTED, FOR A FINITE PERIOD OF TIME, TO WORK AND HOPEFULLY BURNISH THE RULE OF LAW.

IN MY TIME AS A LAWYER AND A JUDGE, AMONG THE MOST DRAMATIC CHANGES I HAVE SEEN TAKE PLACE IN OUR STATE IS ITS DYNAMIC GROWTH.  IN 2017, WE WERE AMONG THE TOP 10 FASTEST GROWING STATES IN THE NATION AND TODAY, WE ARE THE EIGHTH MOST POPULOUS. I REPEAT WE ARE THE EIGHTH MOST POPULOUS.

GROWTH BRINGS OPPORTUNITY.  AND IT IS NO SURPRISE THAT FOR THE FIFTH YEAR IN A ROW, GEORGIA HAS BEEN NAMED THE NO. 1 STATE IN THE NATION TO DO BUSINESS.  ONE OF THE NECESSARY PRE-CONDITIONS TO SUCCESSFULLY DOING BUSINESS IS THE RULE OF LAW – KNOWING THAT CONTRACTS WILL BE ENFORCED AS WRITTEN, KNOWING THAT THE LAW WILL BE APPLIED AS DRAFTED BY THE LEGISLATURE, AND KNOWING THAT THERE IS AN ORDERLY, REASONABLE, AND FAIR PROCESS FOR RESOLVING DISPUTES.

THE COURT REFORM COUNCIL HAS RECOMMENDED THE CREATION OF A STATEWIDE BUSINESS COURT.  IF YOU, THE MEMBERS OF THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY, APPROVE A CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT, AND THE VOTERS ENDORSE IT BY A TWO-THIRDS VOTE, THIS COURT WILL HAVE  JURISDICTION SIMILAR, IN CERTAIN WAYS, TO OUR FEDERAL COURTS AND ALSO HAVE THE EXPERTISE TO HANDLE COMPLEX FINANCIAL CASES.  IT WOULD OPERATE SIMILARLY TO THE SPECIALIZED BUSINESS COURTS NOW OPERATING IN FULTON AND GWINNETT COUNTIES.  I HOPE THIS INITIATIVE MEETS WITH YOUR APPROVAL.

A SEA CHANGE I HAVE WITNESSED IN MY MANY YEARS AS A JUDGE IS HOW WE VIEW AND RESPOND TO CRIMINAL BEHAVIOR.  WE’VE BECOME SMARTER, MORE PRECISE, AND MORE JUST.  AS A RESULT, THE COURTS ARE DOING A BETTER JOB OF PROTECTING SOCIETY, SAVING TAXPAYER DOLLARS, AND RESTORING FAMILIES.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM HAS BEEN A HALLMARK OF GOVERNOR DEAL’S ADMINISTRATION, AS IT HAS BEEN FOR MANY OF YOU LEGISLATORS, AND IT IS NOT JUST THE POLICY CHANGES THAT YOU HAVE MADE IN CRIMINAL PROCEDURES THAT MAKE GEORGIA A NATIONAL LEADER IN THIS MOVEMENT, BUT THE NON-PARTISAN AND COLLABORATIVE WAY IN WHICH IT HAS BEEN ACHIEVED.  MY FRIEND AND COLLEAGUE, JUSTICE MICHAEL BOGGS, HAS SERVED SINCE 2012 WITH ABILITY, COMMITMENT, AND PASSION AS CO-CHAIR OF THE GOVERNOR’S CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM COUNCIL.

UNDER THE LEADERSHIP OF GOVERNOR DEAL, YOU LADIES AND GENTLEMEN OF THE LEGISLATURE, AND GEORGIA’S JUDGES, POLICY CHANGES IN OUR CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM HAVE ACCOMPLISHED THREE GOALS: THEY HAVE ENSURED THAT WE HOLD ACCOUNTABLE THOSE WHO VIOLATE THE LAW.  THEY HAVE IMPROVED PUBLIC SAFETY BY REDUCING THE RECIDIVISM RATE.  AND THEY HAVE SAVED MONEY.

EXPENSIVE PRISON COMMITMENTS OVERALL ARE DOWN IN GEORGIA, WITH 2017 HAVING THE LOWEST NUMBER SINCE 2002.  ALSO, THE CRIME RATE IS DOWN 6 PERCENT.  MOST DRAMATICALLY, PRISON COMMITMENTS AMONG AFRICAN AMERICAN CITIZENS HAVE DROPPED MORE THAN 30 PERCENT BETWEEN 2009 AND 2016.  THE NUMBER OF AFRICAN AMERICANS ENTERING THE PRISON SYSTEM IN 2016 WAS ITS LOWEST SINCE 1987.  THIS, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, IS HISTORIC, AND WORTH CELEBRATING.

WE HAVE MADE PROGRESS, NOT JUST WITH LOW-RISK ADULTS WHO COMMIT NON-VIOLENT PROPERTY AND DRUG OFFENSES, BUT ALSO WITH THE YOUNG PEOPLE OF OUR STATE.

JUVENILES OFTEN ARE DRIVERS OF THE ADULT CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM.  LOCKING UP A YOUTH IS NOT ONLY COSTLY AT APPROXIMATELY $90,000 A YEAR, IT IS ALSO OFTEN INEFFECTIVE.  NEARLY TWO-THIRDS OF JUVENILE OFFENDERS REOFFEND IN THREE YEARS.  BEFORE CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM, GEORGIANS RECEIVED A POOR PUBLIC SAFETY RETURN ON THEIR INVESTMENT.  MANY COMMUNITIES DID NOT HAVE ALTERNATIVE PLACEMENTS FOR THESE YOUTH.  THANKS TO YOU, THE LEGISLATURE, INCREASINGLY THEY NOW DO.

YOU REWROTE THE JUVENILE CODE AND APPROPRIATED $7 MILLION FOR COMMUNITIES TO DEVELOP ALTERNATIVES TO LOCKING UP YOUNG PEOPLE IN THE STATE’S YOUTH JAILS AND PRISONS.  AND LOOK WHAT HAS HAPPENED.  AFTER CHALLENGING THE COUNTIES THAT SERVE 70 PERCENT OF GEORGIA’S AT-RISK YOUTH TO DIVERT 15 PERCENT OF THEIR DELINQUENTS AWAY FROM INCARCERATION, THOSE COUNTIES HEEDED THE CALL AND HAVE DIVERTED 54 PERCENT, RESULTING IN THE NUMBER OF YOUTH IN CONFINEMENT STATEWIDE DROPPING 36 PERCENT.

WE KNOW THAT FOR MANY OF THESE YOUNG PEOPLE, WHAT WORKS BEST TO PREVENT CRIMINAL BEHAVIOR ARE PROFESSIONAL INTERVENTIONS AND FAMILY THERAPY.

THESE ALTERNATIVES IN NO WAY REPRESENT A TURN TOWARD BECOMING SOFT ON CRIME.  THEY REPRESENT PROGRESS IN TURNING AROUND TROUBLED YOUTH BEFORE THEY GRADUATE TO THE ADULT CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM AS HARDENED, INSTITUTIONALIZED OFFENDERS.

A JUMP-OUT-AT-YOU HIGHLIGHT OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM HAS BEEN THE SUCCESS OF WHAT ARE CALLED “ACCOUNTABILITY” COURTS – DRUG COURTS, MENTAL HEALTH COURTS, VETERANS COURTS, AND THE LIKE.  THESE SPECIALIZED COURTS HOLD ACCOUNTABLE LOW-RISK, NON-VIOLENT OFFENDERS, WHO HAVE MADE MISTAKES IN THEIR LIVES, WHILE GIVING THEM A SECOND CHANCE.  THESE COURTS REQUIRE TIME, ENERGY, AND COMMITMENT FROM OUR JUDGES, AND THEY ARE DEMANDING OF PARTICIPANTS.  BUT THEY WORK.  VALIDATED STUDIES HAVE PROVEN OVER AND OVER AGAIN THAT DRUG COURTS PRODUCE A BETTER PUBLIC SAFETY OUTCOME THAN INCARCERATION, AND AT A SIGNIFICANTLY REDUCED COST.

IN THE PAST, WE DEALT WITH ILLEGAL DRUG USE AND NON-VIOLENT ILLEGAL BEHAVIOR CAUSED BY MENTAL ILLNESS STRICTLY AS A CRIMINAL JUSTICE ISSUE.  WE OFTEN HAD TUNNEL VISION AND SAW INCARCERATION AS THE ONLY SOLUTION.  AS JUSTICE BOGGS IS FOND OF SAYING, “EVERYBODY BELIEVES IN AN EYE FOR AN EYE AND A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH. YOU DO THE CRIME, YOU DO THE TIME. UNTIL IT’S YOUR CHILD OR OTHER FAMILY MEMBER WHO IS ACCUSED.”

BUT WE HAVE LEARNED WE DO A MUCH BETTER JOB OF PROTECTING THE PUBLIC BY TREATING THE WHOLE PERSON AND THE ROOT CAUSES OF ONE’S CRIME.  WE HAVE LEARNED THAT A HOMELESS VETERAN, FOUND PASSED OUT ON A SIDEWALK – A MAN WHO MAY HAVE SLEPT WITH SNAKES IN VIETNAM WHILE SERVING OUR COUNTRY – MAY BE SUFFERING FROM POST TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER AND HAS TURNED TO ALCOHOL AS A RESULT.  LOCKING HIM UP IS MOST PROBABLY NOT THE BEST SOLUTION.

TODAY I AM PROUD TO ANNOUNCE THAT AS OF LAST MONTH, EVERY SINGLE JUDICIAL CIRCUIT IN GEORGIA NOW HAS AT LEAST ONE, IF NOT MORE, ACCOUNTABILITY COURTS.  IN SIX YEARS, THE NUMBER OF PARTICIPANTS IN THESE COURTS HAS NEARLY TRIPLED.  IT IS THANKS TO THE SUPPORT OF OUR GOVERNOR AND YOU, AND TO THE COMMITMENT AND FORESIGHT OF OUR STATE’S JUDGES THAT GEORGIA IS WAY OUT FRONT IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM.  IN THE FUTURE, OUR SUCCESSES WILL, FOR CERTAIN, GROW. FOR I KNOW THAT OUR STATE’S JUDGES – MANY OF WHOM ARE HERE TODAY – ARE CREATIVE PEOPLE AND ARE COMMITTED TO MAKING OUR COURTS WORK FOR A BETTER GEORGIA.

I WANT TO GIVE YOU AN EXAMPLE OF THIS CREATIVITY.  BACK IN 2012, JUDGE BRIAN AMERO, A SUPERIOR COURT JUDGE IN HENRY COUNTY, BECAME INCREASINGLY FRUSTRATED ABOUT THE HANDLING OF DEFENDANTS WHO FAILED TO PAY CHILD SUPPORT.  HE WITNESSED NUMEROUS LITIGANTS REPRESENTING THEMSELVES WHO WERE SIGNIFICANTLY BEHIND IN CHILD SUPPORT PAYMENTS AND HADN’T WORKED FOR A YEAR OR LONGER.  MOST WERE FATHERS, AND WHEN A PROSECUTOR WOULD ASK A MAN WHY HE WASN’T WORKING AND TAKING CARE OF HIS CHILDREN, THE MAN WOULD TYPICALLY SIMPLY SHRUG HIS SHOULDERS. JUDGE AMERO SAID HE GOT THE FEELING MANY HAD GIVEN UP TRYING TO PAY, BELIEVING THEY WERE IN A HOLE AND COULD NOT GET OUT.  THE ONLY LEGAL REMEDY WAS TO HOLD THEM IN CONTEMPT OF COURT AND PUT THEM IN JAIL.

BUT WATCHING THIS PROCESS, THE JUDGE REALIZED, EVERYBODY LOSES.  THE FATHER GOES TO JAIL, COSTING THE COUNTY MONEY, WHAT LITTLE STABILITY HE HAD DIMINISHES, AND HE FALLS FURTHER BEHIND IN HIS PAYMENTS. THE MOTHER LOSES AS SHE RECEIVES NO SUPPORT FOR THEIR CHILDREN. AND MOST IMPORTANTLY, THE CHILDREN LOSE, LACKING ANY SUPPORT AND OFTEN  BELIEVING THEIR FATHER IS IN JAIL BECAUSE OF THEM.  IT WAS A BAD, REPETITIVE CYCLE.  BUT ONE DAY, JUDGE AMERO THOUGHT TO HIMSELF, WHY NOT TRY A DIFFERENT MODEL.

HE BEGAN ASSIGNING EACH DELINQUENT PARENT A CASE MANAGER WHO HELPED THE PARENT OBTAIN JOB SKILLS IF NEEDED, FIND WORK, KEEP WORK, SOLVE TRANSPORTATION PROBLEMS, AND OVERCOME SUBSTANCE OR ALCOHOL ABUSE. THE PARENT WAS TOLD YOU ARE REQUIRED TO MANAGE YOUR CHILD SUPPORT RESPONSIBILITIES BETTER.  BUT IF YOU PROVE YOU ARE WORKING 40 HOURS A WEEK, OR LOOKING FOR WORK 40 HOURS A WEEK, AND MAKING A LEGITIMATE EFFORT TO PAY YOUR CHILD SUPPORT, YOU WON’T BE INCARCERATED.

JUDGE AMERO IS AS PASSIONATE ABOUT THESE PARENTAL ACCOUNTABILITY COURTS AS JUSTICE BOGGS IS ABOUT CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM.  AS HE SAYS, “THE NUMBERS HAVE BEEN PHENOMENAL.”  THE FACT IS, ONCE THE PARENTS GET HELP WITH THEIR UNDERLYING PROBLEMS, MOST START FINANCIALLY SUPPORTING THEIR CHILDREN.

IN SIX YEARS OF EXISTENCE, THESE COURTS HAVE HELPED ALMOST 5,000 PARENTS – MOSTLY FATHERS – AVOID JAIL TIME AND PAY MORE THAN $5 MILLION IN SUPPORT FOR MORE THAN 7,000 GEORGIA CHILDREN.  ADDITIONALLY, THEY HAVE SAVED COUNTIES MORE THAN $10 MILLION IN INCARCERATION COSTS.

AS OF NOW, PARENTAL ACCOUNTABILITY COURTS OPERATE IN 33 OF GEORGIA’S 49 JUDICIAL CIRCUITS.  THE GOAL IS TO ROLL THEM OUT IN EVERY JUDICIAL CIRCUIT OF THE STATE.

WITH ACCOUNTABILITY COURTS, THE STORIES OF REHABILITATED INDIVIDUALS BEST ILLUSTRATE THEIR SUCCESS.  ANOTHER SUCH STORY INVOLVES A MAN WHO BEGAN ABUSING ALCOHOL AFTER AN ACRIMONIOUS DIVORCE.  HE BECAME ESTRANGED FROM HIS CHILDREN AND LOST HIS JOB.  BUT FOLLOWING HIS ARREST FOR FAILING TO PAY CHILD SUPPORT, HE BECAME A PARTICIPANT IN THE PARENTAL ACCOUNTABILITY COURT IN PICKENS COUNTY. BECAUSE OF THAT COURT, HE REGAINED HIS FINANCIAL FOOTING.  WITH HIS NEWFOUND EMPLOYMENT, HE BEGAN MAKING HIS CHILD SUPPORT PAYMENTS, AND MOST IMPORTANTLY, HE RESTORED HIS RELATIONSHIPS WITH HIS CHILDREN.

HIS BEST REWARD CAME THE DAY HE RECEIVED A CALL FROM HIS OLDEST DAUGHTER.  SHE WANTED A DRESS FOR HER HIGH SCHOOL PROM.  WITH HIS NEW LEASE ON LIFE, HE WAS ABLE TO STEP UP AND BUY IT FOR HER.  HE DESCRIBES IT AS ONE OF THE HAPPIEST MOMENTS OF HIS LIFE.  SINCE THEN, HE HAS REMAINED SOBER FOR MORE THAN THREE YEARS AND SPENDS AT LEAST ONE WEEK A MONTH WITH HIS CHILDREN.

MY FRIENDS, ANY TIME WE CAN SAFELY REUNITE FATHERS, MOTHERS, AND THEIR CHILDREN, WE ARE HELPING TO STRENGTHEN FAMILIES, OUR COMMUNITIES, AND OUR STATE.  THIS IS NOBLE WORK INDEED.

SAFELY RESTORING FAMILIES, PROTECTING BABIES AND CHILDREN FROM ABUSE AND NEGLECT, STEERING TROUBLESOME YOUTH, THE MENTALLY ILL AND THE DRUG-ADDICTED AWAY FROM INCARCERATION ARE AMONG THE WAYS WE CAN SUBSTANTIALLY LOWER THE BURDEN ON OUR CRIMINAL COURTS AND REDUCE OUR PRISON POPULATION.

WE LIVE IN A TECHNOLOGICAL, FAST-PACED AGE, AND OUR COURTS MUST KEEP PACE TO SERVE THOSE WHO HAVE CASES BEFORE THEM.  ONE SUCCESS STORY OF IMPORTANCE HAS BEEN THE ESTABLISHMENT OF A STATEWIDE PORTAL TO BRING READY ACCESS TO OUR COURTS.  BEFORE YEAR’S END, IT IS HOPED THAT LAWYERS AND OTHERS WILL BE ABLE TO GO TO A SINGULAR WEBSITE, AND USING ONE PASSWORD, ELECTRONICALLY ACCESS INFORMATION ABOUT CASES IN COURTS THROUGHOUT GEORGIA.  PRESENTLY, PEOPLE MUST GO, PHYSICALLY OR ELECTRONICALLY, TO INDIVIDUAL COUNTIES AND USE AS MANY DIFFERENT PASSWORDS AS THERE ARE VENDORS TO GAIN INFORMATION ABOUT THEIR CASES.  THIS COMPREHENSIVE, ONE-STOP SHOP FOR THE JUDICIARY WILL CHANGE THAT.  EFFICIENCY WILL BE IMPROVED, TIME AND MONEY WILL BE SAVED, AND JUSTICE WILL BE ADMINISTERED MORE QUICKLY.  IT HAS NOT BEEN EASY ACHIEVING REFORMATION OF THIS MAGNITUDE WITHIN A NON-UNIFIED JUDICIARY, AND I AM MOST GRATEFUL TO PRESIDING JUSTICE HAROLD MELTON FOR HEADING THIS EFFORT. I ALSO THANK THE LEGISLATURE FOR ITS NECESSARY FINANCIAL LEADERSHIP IN ACHIEVING THIS LONG-SOUGHT GOAL.

OTHER IMPORTANT TECHNOLOGICAL IMPROVEMENTS HAVE TAKEN PLACE IN THE SUPREME COURT AND COURT OF APPEALS.  CASE FILINGS ARE NOW ACCOMPLISHED ELECTRONICALLY, AND RECORDS FROM TRIAL COURTS REACH OUR APPELLATE COURTS BY ELECTRONIC MEANS.  AGAIN, EFFICIENCY IS IMPROVED, TIME AND MONEY IS SAVED, AND JUSTICE IS MORE QUICKLY ACHIEVED.

JUSTICE DAVID NAHMIAS RIGHTFULLY REFERS TO THE ARCHITECT OF THIS ENDEAVOR IN THE SUPREME COURT AS MOTHER TERESA, AN IDENTITY ASCRIBED WITH RESPECT AND AFFECTION TO OUR CLERK AND COURT EXECUTIVE, MS. TEE BARNES, WHO IS THE PERSONIFICATION OF GRACE AND PROFESSIONALISM.

IF YOU WILL, ALLOW ME TO CALL TO YOUR ATTENTION AND ASK FOR YOUR HELP IN SOLVING A SIGNIFICANT PROBLEM FACING OUR STATE.  WE DO NOT HAVE ENOUGH FOSTER HOMES, AND CHILDREN WHO DO NOT GROW UP IN LOVING FAMILIES ARE THE ONES WHO OFTEN WIND UP IN OUR COURTS.  BY THE END OF THIS YEAR, SOME 14,000 OF GEORGIA’S CHILDREN ARE EXPECTED TO BE IN OUR FOSTER CARE SYSTEM – A SURGE OF 55 PERCENT IN THE LAST THREE YEARS.  AT THE SAME TIME, THE NUMBER OF FOSTER FAMILIES HAS DIMINISHED.

THE INCREASE IN THE NUMBER OF CHILDREN IN FOSTER CARE HAS BEEN FUELED IN PART BY ILLEGAL DRUG USAGE, INCLUDING ILLICIT USE OF OPIOIDS.  NATIONALLY, THE NUMBER OF CHILDREN IN FOSTER CARE HAS TRIPLED SINCE 2012.

EVEN IF WE HAD SIGNIFICANTLY MORE FOSTER HOMES, WE KNOW THAT CHILDREN WHO GROW UP IN FOSTER CARE AND AGE OUT OF THE SYSTEM GENERALLY DO NOT DO AS WELL AS THOSE WHO GROW UP IN INTACT FAMILIES.  BEING REMOVED FROM THEIR FAMILY IS TRAUMATIC FOR CHILDREN, EVEN IF IT IS NECESSARY FOR THEIR SAFETY.  MANY DEVELOP MENTAL HEALTH PROBLEMS AND STRUGGLE WITH ADDICTION.  THEY ARE MORE LIKELY TO BECOME HOMELESS, AND LESS LIKELY TO GRADUATE FROM HIGH SCHOOL OR ATTEND COLLEGE.  LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, AT THEIR BEST, FOSTER HOMES CAN ONLY ATTEMPT TO REPLICATE A LOVING, NURTURING ENVIRONMENT FOR THE CHILDREN WHO LIVE IN THEM.

BUT I AM AN OPTIMIST, FOR I SEE PROGRESS BEING MADE.  LAST YEAR YOU APPROVED A 19 PERCENT PAY RAISE FOR CHILD WELFARE WORKERS AND PUMPED AN ADDITIONAL $19 MILLION INTO THE FOSTER CARE SYSTEM, AND ALREADY WE ARE SEEING POSITIVE RESULTS.  THE DIVISION OF FAMILY AND CHILDREN SERVICES REPORTS THAT IT HAS AN EXPANDED AND MORE STABLE WORKFORCE OF FRONT-LINE CHILD PROTECTIVE SERVICES WORKERS WITH A TURNOVER RATE THAT HAS SHRUNK FROM NEARLY 40 PERCENT TO 10 PERCENT.  THE PERCENTAGE OF FOSTER CHILDREN PLACED WITH RELATIVES HAS INCREASED, AND THE NUMBER OF TIMES CHILDREN MUST BE MOVED FROM ONE PLACEMENT TO THE NEXT HAS DECREASED.  FOR YOUR HELPFUL ACTION, AGAIN, I SAY THANK YOU.

OUR CONSTITUTION SAYS, “THAT AN ADEQUATE PUBLIC EDUCATION FOR THE CITIZENS SHALL BE A PRIMARY STATE OBLIGATION.”  AND I ASK YOU TO LOOK FAVORABLY UPON EARLY LEARNING INITIATIVES AND THE BRINGING TOGETHER OF COMMUNITY ORGANIZATIONS AND OUR SCHOOLS TO ENSURE THAT WHEN EACH CHILD ENTERS HIS OR HER CLASSROOM HE OR SHE IS WELL FED, WELL CLOTHED, WELL RESTED,  AND READY TO LEARN.  I ASSURE YOU THAT IF WE CAN OBTAIN THESE GOALS, GRADES WILL IMPROVE, GRADUATION RATES WILL INCREASE, AND SUSPENSIONS WILL DECREASE.  WE EITHER INVEST IN OUR CHILDREN NOW, OR PAY A HIGH PRICE LATER.

ANOTHER CHALLENGE FACING OUR STATE IS THAT FAR TOO MANY OF OUR CITIZENS WITH MENTAL HEALTH PROBLEMS CONTINUE TO WIND UP IN OUR JAILS AND PRISONS.  MORE THAN HALF OF ALL GEORGIANS WHO WERE ADMITTED TO OUR PRISONS IN 2016 HAD A DIAGNOSED MENTAL HEALTH ISSUE.  WE SIMPLY CANNOT LET OUR PRISONS BE OUR FRONT-LINE AND MOST POPULOUS MENTAL HEALTH FACILITIES.

ACCESS TO JUSTICE REMAINS AN ISSUE OF CONCERN.  TOO MANY HARD-WORKING, GOOD, DECENT GEORGIANS SIMPLY CANNOT AFFORD A LAWYER TO HANDLE CIVIL MATTERS THAT OFTEN INVOLVE OWNERSHIP OF PROPERTY, DEBT COLLECTION, LANDLORD-TENANT DISPUTES AND OTHER SIMILAR EVERYDAY LEGAL MATTERS.  PLEASE, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN OF THE LEGISLATURE, LOOK CAREFULLY AT THIS SITUATION.

ANOTHER AREA WHERE CHANGE IS NEEDED IS HOW BAIL IS SET, PARTICULARLY FOR MISDEMEANOR OFFENDERS.  IN ITS FINAL YEAR BEFORE IT IS DUE TO SUNSET, THE COUNCIL ON CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM IS RECOMMENDING TO YOU MEASURES FOR CHANGING THIS SYSTEM.  PEOPLE CANNOT BE KEPT IN JAIL BECAUSE OF POVERTY ALONE.  I ASK THAT YOU GIVE THE COUNCIL’S RECOMMENDATIONS YOUR CAREFUL ATTENTION.

ALTHOUGH THE SERIOUS ISSUES FACING OUR GREAT STATE ARE MANY AND COMPLEX, I HAVE THE UTMOST FAITH IN OUR THREE BRANCHES OF GOVERNMENT TO DIRECTLY CONFRONT AND SOLVE THEM.  I KNOW THAT SOLUTIONS WILL NOT BE EASY, BUT LET US NOT BE DETERRED FROM OUR TASK TO MAKE GEORGIA A SHINING BEACON OF OPPORTUNITY FOR ALL ITS CITIZENS.  I ONCE ASKED MY SON, HAP, WHEN HE WAS KICKING FOR THE BULLDAWGS, IF HE EVER BECAME AFRAID WHEN HE WAS ATTEMPTING A LAST MINUTE, LONG DISTANCE  FIELD GOAL TO WIN OR TIE A GAME IN FRONT OF 90,000 PEOPLE.  HIS ANSWER WAS SHORT AND TO THE POINT.  “SURE DAD, BUT YOU JUST HAVE TO PLAY THOUGH IT.”  WE, THE EXECUTIVE, LEGISLATIVE, AND JUDICIAL BRANCHES OF GOVERNMENT JUST HAVE TO PLAY THROUGH THE PROBLEMS WE FACE – FOR OUR TEAM, THE PEOPLE OF GEORGIA.

AS I APPROACH THE END OF THESE REMARKS, PLEASE ALLOW ME TO EXPRESS SOME POINTS OF PERSONAL PRIVILEGE.  I KNOW FOR CERTAIN THAT THE COURTS OF GEORGIA ARE IN GOOD HANDS AND THAT GEORGIA’S JUDICIARY IS BETTER EQUIPPED AND BETTER PREPARED TO SERVE A GROWING POPULATION AND TO CORRECTLY RESOLVE THE COMPLEX ISSUES WHICH ARE ATTENDANT THERETO THAN EVER BEFORE.

LAST YEAR, GOVERNOR DEAL APPOINTED THREE NEW JUSTICES TO THE SUPREME COURT: JUSTICE MIKE BOGGS, JUSTICE NELS PETERSON, AND JUSTICE BRITT GRANT.  EACH IS AS BRIGHT AS A NEW PENNY.  THEY HAVE IMPECCABLE CREDENTIALS.  THEY REPRESENT A NEW GENERATION OF GEORGIANS.  THEY BRING GREAT ENERGY TO THIS BENCH, INNOVATIVE SOLUTIONS TO LEGAL QUESTIONS, AND THEY ARE GOOD PEOPLE AND GOOD COLLEAGUES.

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, I TELL YOU WITHOUT RESERVATION THAT EACH AND EVERY MEMBER OF THE COURT UPON WHICH I AM PRIVILEGED TO SIT AS CHIEF JUSTICE UNDERSTANDS THE DOCTRINE OF SEPARATION OF POWERS: THE LEGISLATURE WRITES THE LAW; THE JUDICIARY DOES ITS BEST TO INTERPRET AND CLARIFY IT.  AND IN SO DOING, WE SEEK TO HEAR THE QUIET BUT CLEAR VOICES OF OUR BETTER ANGELS WHO SPEAK IN OUR EARS THE DIRECTIVE EMBLAZONED ABOVE THE BENCH OF THE SUPREME COURT OF GEORGIA – “FIAT JUSTITIA RUAT CAELUM” (LET JUSTICE BE DONE THOUGH THE HEAVENS MAY FALL).

PRESIDING JUSTICE MELTON, JUSTICE BENHAM, JUSTICE HUNSTEIN, JUSTICE NAHMIAS, JUSTICE BLACKWELL, JUSTICE BOGGS, JUSTICE PETERSON, AND JUSTICE GRANT, IT IS AN HONOR TO SERVE WITH YOU, AS IT HAS BEEN AN HONOR TO SERVE WITH THE OTHER JUSTICES WHO HAVE PRECEDED ME ON OUR STATE’S HIGHEST BENCH.

SERVING AS CHIEF JUSTICE HAS BEEN THE HIGHLIGHT OF MY LEGAL CAREER.  I HAVE BEEN BLESSED TO WORK WITH SO VERY MANY FINE PUBLIC SERVANTS.  I HAVE MADE COUNTLESS FRIENDS AND BENEFITTED FROM A WONDERFUL STAFF.

AS I CLOSE, I REPEAT THAT MY LEGAL CAREER BEGAN IN 1968, WHEN I WAS ADMITTED TO THE BAR OF OUR STATE.  I WAS A YOUNG ATTORNEY THEN AND NOW I AM AN OLD JUDGE.  I HAVE TRIED CASES AS AN ATTORNEY.  I HAVE PRESIDED OVER CASES AS A STATE COURT JUDGE AND A SUPERIOR COURT JUDGE, AND I NOW REVIEW CASES AS CHIEF JUSTICE OF THE GEORGIA SUPREME COURT.  I HAVE BEEN INVOLVED WITH CASES FROM A TO Z (ABANDONMENT TO ZONING) AND MANY OF THE LETTERS IN BETWEEN. NOW, I AM NOT A SOCIAL SCIENTIST, BUT I HAVE LEARNED MANY THINGS.  AND I AM CERTAIN THAT IF YOU LEGISLATORS, GOOD MEN AND WOMEN ALL, PUT YOUR PRIMARY FOCUS ON STRENGTHENING, WITHIN THE AMBIT OF THE LAW, GEORGIA’S FAMILIES, IMPROVING THE PHYSICAL AND MENTAL HEALTH OF OUR CITIZENS, AND PROVIDING THE YOUNG PEOPLE OF OUR STATE WITH THE OPPORTUNITY TO OBTAIN AN EXCELLENT EDUCATION, YOU WILL CREATE A RISING TIDE THAT WILL LIFT ALL BOATS AND PROVIDE THE OPPORTUNITY FOR HAPPINESS AND PROSPERITY FOR GENERATIONS OF GEORGIANS TO COME.

FINALLY, I WANT TO THANK THE LADY TO WHOM I GAVE MY BEST CLOSING ARGUMENT EVER, WHEN I PERSUADED HER TO MARRY ME WAY BACK IN 1969.  HELEN, YOU ARE MY ROCK, MY PARTNER, MY BEST FRIEND, MY DEAR ONE.  YOU HAVE BEEN WITH ME EVERY STEP OF OUR JOURNEY TOGETHER, AND HAVE MADE ME A BETTER MAN, A BETTER FATHER, AND A BETTER JUDGE.  MOTHER, TO ME YOU’VE ALWAYS BEEN SPRINGTIME AT THE MASTERS.  WILL YOU PLEASE STAND.

AND NOW, MAY GOD BLESS EACH OF YOU; MAY GOD BLESS YOUR FAMILIES; AND MAY GOD BLESS THE GREAT STATE OF GEORGIA.

 

THANK YOU.

Collins Discusses Rosenstein Briefing and Tax Reform

WASHINGTON—Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), Vice Chair of the House Republican Conference and member of the House Judiciary Committee, joined Fox News today to discuss the House Judiciary Committee’s oversight hearing with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. He also spoke with Fox Business about the status of conservative tax reform and potential for infrastructure development in 2018.

On whether the Deputy Attorney General offered satisfactory answers at the oversight hearing:

“No, I’m not satisfied at all. In fact, Mr. Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney General, shouldn’t be satisfied.”

“We’ve not even answered simple things like is [Strzok] still in communication with the Mueller team? Does he have a security clearance? Why was he put in human resources where he could influence other people?”

On the status of tax reform:

“We’re on the . . . very verge of getting exactly what we’ve told the American people we’re going to do and what the president said—by the end of this year, by Christmas actually, we’re going to pass a tax reform package that begins the process of doing what I’ve said before. We’ve got the best workers in the world, we’ve got the best ideas in the world, we’ve got an energy independence—we’ve got the worst tax system.

“Now we’re able to start saying we’ve got a tax system that puts us competitive not only with the world but [that] puts money into people’s pockets come the first of the year, and that’s something we’re excited about.”