Why Judges Matter

Written By: Admin

Why DO Judges Matter?

Everyone’s attention is currently focused on the presidential elections. The public– whether enthusiastic, fascinated, frightened or appalled– is engaged. Judges and judicial elections rarely generate such interest; but, in the absence of a war or national disaster, the judiciary has an infinitely greater impact on our daily lives. For example, while we have waited with bated breath for the newest pronouncements from “The Donald,” the United States Supreme Court quietly saved affirmative action in college admissions. Local judges are no less impactful on our lives.

It is local judges who decide whether a bank can foreclose on your home, whether a credit bureau has to correct errors on your credit report, whether you can be evicted, whether you will be treated as a youthful offender if you are ever charged with a crime, whether and for how long a person will go to prison, whether a criminal history will be sealed, under what terms you may get a divorce and what will happen to your children. Despite the tremendous discretionary power afforded local judges most citizens don’t know their names and rarely pay attention to local judicial elections.

WHO SITS ON THE BENCH MATTERS.

For instance, recently in California an unconscious young woman was sexually assaulted in an alley behind a dumpster. The assault ended when alert passersby saw what was happening. They captured and held the attacker until the police arrived. The attacker was a student at an elite college. He is alleged to have taken and sent a picture of his victim’s breasts to friends in the dorm over social media. After his conviction the attacker’s father pleaded for leniency arguing he shouldn’t be severely sanctioned for “twenty minutes of action.” The charge carried a sentence of up to fourteen years. The judge sentenced the defendant to six months because he felt more would be to harmful to the attacker. There is now a recall petition seeking removal of the judge from office. It has garnered more than 900,000 signatures. That same judge had been reelected without opposition.

And, in Georgia three children, a set of twins and their older brother, were placed in foster care. The foster parents returned the oldest child to the Department of Family and Children Services and continued to care for the twins. Relatives of the children were found and were prepared to take all of the children into their home.  A juvenile court judge followed the recommendation of DFACS and found that it was in the children’s best interest to be reunited and placed with their relatives. Meanwhile the foster parents filed a petition in superior court to adopt just the twins. Without notice to either DFACS or the children’s relatives, a superior court judge granted the adoption.

That decision was overturned by the Georgia Court of Appeals. Two appellate rulings held that superior court had no authority to hear the case. The superior court judge was directed to refrain from any further action in the case, but she refused to comply. The juvenile court judge, at the risk of her career and reputation, continued to do what she believed to be in the children’s interest by ruling that the siblings should be reunited and placed with loving relatives. 

The juvenile court judge being described above was Belinda Edwards. In Georgia juvenile court judges are appointed by superior court judges. In a vote taken by secret ballot a majority of the judges of the Fulton Superior Court voted not to reappoint Judge Edwards. Recently, a scurrilous, inaccurate and grossly misleading political mailer has been disseminated throughout Fulton County suggesting that Judge Edwards was “fired” by the Fulton Superior Court because of her handling of the case described above. Tellingly, no person or organization is identified on the mailer as responsible for its dissemination or content. The truth is Judge Edwards was not reappointed because she refused to compromise in the exercise of her independent judgment to reunify a family and maintaining familial bonds in the best interests of the children.

The citizens of Fulton County lost a dedicated judge on the Juvenile Court because Judge Edwards was willing to speak truth to power in service to children who had no voice.   But, the Fulton County electorate has the opportunity to put Judge Edwards in an office where she can be of greater service to the larger community – the Fulton County Superior Court. Judge Edwards is one of two diverse candidates involved in a run off for a seat on that bench.  The other diverse candidate is Eric Dunaway. His runoff opponent has been explicitly telling North Fulton voters that the endorsements of community leaders such as Ambassador Andrew Young should be ignored and if they don’t vote for him they will get “an unqualified” judge.”

The quality of justice in our community depends upon who serves on the bench. Candidates who seek to win by misrepresenting the facts and denigrating respected members of the community don’t represent the values we all believe should be reflected by our judiciary.  

Who serves on the bench matters. We cannot afford to be indifferent.    

BE AN ADVOCATE FOR ACTION

Judge Thelma Wyatt Moore

Judge Bettianne Hart

Charles S. Johnson

Wayne Kendall

Suzy Ockleberry