Last week, Georgia House Speaker David Ralston was the subject of an expose in the Atlanta media. He was accused of abusing his privileges under a “legislative leave law,” that allows attorneys who serve in the legislature to delay cases involving their clients if the court schedule conflicts with the legislative schedule.
According a to a Law Enforcement source of mine, delaying a trial can harm the prosecution, resulting in witnesses’ memories being less sharp, officers involved in the case quitting, officers leaving for another agency, or officers just being unavailable for court. In other words, though there is a legitimate reason for the law, a delay is a defense tactic, and according the article, Speaker Ralston has done exactly that.
A man accused of beating up his girlfriend was facing twenty years in jail, but four years after he was indicted, the delays have prevented his charges from moving forward. The man said to the AJC, “That’s why I gave him 20,000 bucks.” He has also drawn out cases involving his defense of accused child molesters and people accused of violent assault, all citing his legislative duties.
Unfortunately for Speaker Ralston, the AJC/Channel 2 Action News investigation show that of the 93 days Ralston said he wasn’t available due to his legislative duties, only 17 of the days were during the time he needed to be at the Capitol or elsewhere as Speaker.
I’m giving you a synopsis, but let me just say, it looks bad. Very bad, and so ten lawmakers, our own Jeff Jones among them, decided to sign on to a bill asking Ralston to step down as Speaker. Ralston has a reputation for harshly keeping his party and voting block in line, and when faced with the loss of the confidence of ten of his party members, rather than reach out to them and try to work it out, he decided to circle the wagons and lash out.
Yesterday, Ralston took to the floor of the House to give a 20-minute speech explaining his behavior in the article (for which he refused to be interviewed, by the way). His excuses were beyond poor.
The main points/defenses from his speech were as follows:
-He didn’t ask for all of the continuances. This is a bad excuse for a couple of reasons: 1. It doesn’t clarify whether the continuances were requested from his side of the aisle or whether the requests came form the prosecution. If they came from the defense, then they still came on his behalf and we’re still venturing into the land of the ethically-challenged. On top of that, if the requests came for the defense, we also have to add misdirection and obfuscation to the list of questionable acts performed by our Speaker. 2. This still means he asked for a number of the continuances. It’s like saying, “Yes, I know eight people in your family were shot, but I only shot six of them.”
-No judge or prosecutor ever questioned the legitimacy of the requests. This reminds me of the way George Carlin used to describe his philosophy of driving: “cop didn’t see it, I didn’t do it.” Or as noted attorney Bob Loblaw (of the Bob Loblaw Law Blog) says, “Why should you go to jail for a crime someone else…noticed?” Besides, you have a Speaker of the House who has a reputation for behaving vengefully when he’s crossed and you expect these people to file a complaint against a man who can make their lives difficult?
-Legislative leave didn’t always result in a delay. Congratulations?
-Over the two years the study was conducted, 23 cases were closed, more than the number being cited in the investigation. The investigation wasn’t into whether or not he abused his authority in every single case he represented, only into whether he did it for people who would pay him to do it. Their finding was that he had.
-There was no mention in the article that he’d reached an agreement that two of the four cases would go to trial in May or June this year. So we learned that you can only delay for so long (sometimes ten years!), but otherwise what is the defense here? And by the way, perhaps that point could have been made had Ralston only agreed to an interview for the story. His refusal to offer his story when given the chance only points to his arrogance.
While stating that no action he has taken was “illegal, wrong, or unethical,” Ralston also decided to put together a committee to make changes to the legislative leave law, a law he had a hand in crafting. I agree that he did nothing illegal. The question remains, however, that if he did nothing unethical, why is he studying changes to the law. If the law is fine and his behavior was, too, why convene the panel? He said he was going to choose to “try and grow and learn from this moment.” Again, why? If he did nothing wrong, what lesson needs to be learned?
Lawmakers under the Dome are comparing the accusations made against Ralston to those made against Bret Kavanaugh. And they’re right. There are similarities. Accusations against both were levied in the media, and legislators made an effort to remove both of them from high-level postions. The difference? There was no evidence against one of them.
Ralston also made it a point to mention that the panel will be made up of a cross section of the populace, however, shortly after saying he wouldn’t be “defensive, angry, or paranoid” he informed “those who make their living screaming into a microphone need not apply” for the panel. Sounds defensive to me.
Now, the Speaker’s hissy fit is affecting our area. Representative Jones reached out to me this morning to let me know that essentially every piece of legislation he was working on was effectively being shelved. Appropriations for a welcome center in Darien seem to have disappeared. A job-creating project he’s been working on for a while, oyster farming off the coast of Georgia, was originally scheduled for a hearing and a vote today. Now, the vote has been removed from the agenda. Vengeance comes swiftly from Speaker Ralston.
Mr. Speaker, as someone in the profession, people who “make their living screaming into a microphone” make an honest living. Can you say the same?