Your morning jolt: Georgia Supreme Court to permit detour around Legislature-ordered fee increase

The chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court on Wednesday quietly announced that the court will permit a detour and allow parties in lawsuits to avoid massive increases in legal fees imposed by the Legislature this spring to help balance the state budget.

Chief Justice Carol Hunstein said the fivefold increase threathened to cut off access to the courts.

The announcement was tucked into the Supreme Court’s Web site. Appeals of lower court decisions are generally prepared by county clerk of court offices. The Supreme Court rule change will permit parties on both sides of an appeal to certify and provide the case record to the high court.

From the press release:

“This is an interim solution to the problems created by the passage of House Bill 1055,” said Hunstein. “I have been in communication with members of the legislature and the executive branch, as well as with the association of county commissioners, and I don’t think anyone involved in this legislation understood what the impact would be.”

House Bill 1055, passed in the last two weeks of the legislature, raised the cost of sending a case record from the trial court to the appeals court from $1.50 a page to $10.00 a page.

Court records include everything filed in a case, including motions, court orders, depositions and attorneys’ briefs. For a record of 500 pages or more, the cost to appeal under House Bill 1055 would rise from $750 to $5,000 – more than a 500 percent increase.

“The whole purpose of this is to make sure the people of Georgia continue to have access to their appellate courts,” the Chief Justice said. “It is a stopgap measure until the legislature reconvenes next year.”

There was no immediate indication of how this would affect the flow of revenue into state coffers.

Updated: The Fulton County Daily Report, on its Twitter feed, is reporting that the state Court of Appeals has rejected a similar fix for appeals from superior and state courts.

Walter Jones of the Morris News Service says Gov. Sonny Perdue isn’t sweating over the flood of e-mails he’s getting, urging him to sign legislation that would ban texting while driving:

Plenty of people are offering him advice, roughly 1,000 people across the state urging he sign it.

“While I believe in a representative government, at this stage of the game, the influx of e-mails or flooding of phones doesn’t really matter. We weigh the balance of the law on this last vote, whether those benefits of the law will outweigh those negatives of the law,” he said [Wednesday]. “And that’s what we’ll continue to do, and we’ll make a decision by the end of the week.”

Much of the pressure is coming from Morgan County, where high school students there campaigned for the law – after one of their classmates died in a car accident, while texting.

My AJC colleague Maureen Downey says a large group of Morgan County residents will come to the state Capitol today to make a personal plea.
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Details about that closed forum for gubernatorial candidates held last week by the Georgia Chamber of Commerce are leaking out. This from Blake Aued of the Athens Banner-Herald:

Former Gov. Roy Barnes, according to a person who was in the room, spoke in favor of investing state employees’ – including teachers’ – retirement funds in venture capital, a move some might consider risky.

Campaign manager Chris Carpenter said he wasn’ there, but Barnes is “not in favor of touching teacher retirement,” so he doubts Barnes included teachers along with other state employees in his statement. Barnes told the same thing to Channel 46 recently, Carpenter said, but they didn’t include it in their story, and no tape of the debate exists.

Jeff Hubbard, the president of the Georgia Association of Educators, said he confirmed Barnes’ position with two people in attendance. If so, let’s just say that this is not going to help him bring teachers back into the fold.

“It has always been the position of GAE that retirement funds should never be utilized for this purpose,” Hubbard said in an e-mail. “We opposed this measure during his term in office and during the attempts throughout Governor Perdue’s administration.”

Went they went into the profession, teachers traded off higher salaries for the security of knowing their employer wouldn’t gamble away their retirement money, Hubbard said. And TRS has done well over the past 60 years the way it is, he said.

Whether it’s true or not, educators believe that Barnes is messing with their pensions.

The AJC could use your opinion on issues in the July 20 primary. Click here to sound off – and maybe become part of the news.

Friends of former political columnist Bill Shipp gathered Wednesday at the Blue Ridge Grill off West Paces Ferry Road for a luncheon to celebrate the donation of his papers to the University of Georgia – where he was once dismissed from the campus newspaper for daring to suggest an end to segregation.

In attendance were former Carter Administration member Bert Lance; George Berry, holder of innumerable positions in state and Atlanta city government; former Atlanta Constitution editorialist Hal Gulliver, attorney Fred “Bowtie” Bentley, and fellow Cobb County resident – and candidate for governor – Roy Barnes.

Shipp declared that his friendship with Barnes would last through November. Unless John Oxendine wins the GOP nomination, in which case he would have to rethink things.

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5 comments Add your comment

Morrus

June 3rd, 2010
10:42 am

Curiously, in a supposed anti-incumbent year, most of the departing are not retiring but seeking higher office. We may recycle more than we replace. The bad news is that a frustrating 114 seats still have but one contestant. Two of them aren’t even incumbents, meaning they will affect state policy without being vetted by voters. And I have to think that we’d be better off if many had run instead for the Legislature — and cut down on the number running unopposed. Georgia’s problems are numerous. They aren’t going away. There’s too much stale thinking at the Capitol, on both sides of the aisle. New voices would be welcome.

np

June 3rd, 2010
12:07 pm

Pension funds have been traditionally the most conservatively invested– until recent years when the anything goes bubble psychology has taken hold. Now they are considered fair game for the fast-buck crowd. What is Barnes thinking? He has revealed himself far too reckless in word and deed. It is quite worrisome to hear him blithely state that he is willing to put employees’ pensions at risk. Doesn’t he realize how problematic that is? Like Perdue, he will hand over billions to crony investment companies, who will skim fees from each employee’s account, while making risky, basically unregulated investment decisions. That stinks to high heavens.

Chris McFadden

June 3rd, 2010
1:29 pm

According to Chief Judge Yvette Miller, who is quoted in today’s Daily Report, some members of the Court of Appeals are reluctant to implement a rule similar to the Supreme Court’s, because they think doing so would be contrary to their duty to “follow the law.” But by adopting its rule, the Supreme Court has necessarily determined that the appellate courts do have the lawful authority – and therefore the responsibility – to implement a solution. As an academic matter, that determination is subject to dispute. But not by the Court of Appeals. As an inferior appellate court, it cannot legitimately dispute the Supreme Court’s determination. The Court of Appeals can only discharge or fail of its responsibility.

Buck Mulligan

June 3rd, 2010
1:32 pm

Republicans don’t raise taxes, right? Well, they raised over 175 fees that you and I pay as a part of the “revenue enhancement” bill. My checkbook really doesn’tknow the difference between a fee and a tax. They sweated all session trying to find ways to raise “revenue” without raising “taxes” because tea party ignoramuses want a free ride – keep all the services we demand but don’t ask us to pay for them.

Michael

June 5th, 2010
12:31 am

Exactly, Repukelicans impose “user fees” on all those things we already paid for. Or they privatize and sell it to their corrupt insider buddies. Take Hwy 316 for example — are they seriously going turn it into a toll road under the ruse that tolls will pay the private (corrupt, insider) contractor to install some cloverleaf ramps? And if Barnes gets elected I guess the fatcats who bought the property for the discarded northern arc (2002) will be back in the game.

Georgians get what we deserve.