OCCUPY.COM Expose Courts Blocking the Public From Sitting In On Trials In Georgia Courts, What Better Way to Show How Corrupt The Courts Are?

OCCUPY.COM EXPOSES GEORGIA’S COURTS DENYING THE PUBLIC ACCESS TO COURT PROCEEDINGS!

I am quite pleased that someone took notice. The Judges in Georgia are akin to little despots. No doubt, a Judge is God in their Courtroom, but they don’t have the right to Deny the public access, so that they can violate one’s Civil and Constitutional Rights while they sneakily do it.

accused flanked by attorneys at sentencing court

EXPOSED: GEORGIA’S COURTS ARE BREAKING THE LAW BY DENYING PUBLIC ACCESS
TUE, 9/24/2013 – BY TANYA GLOVER

Courtrooms aren’t just a place where justice is served and legal decisions are made. They are also a place for the public to go and see how the justice system works: people enjoy viewing trials and hearings, even if they have no personal stake in them. Viewing public trials is the public’s legal right.

However, revelations by a judicial oversight commission in Georgia show that numerous judges in the state, including some in Atlanta, are violating the law by denying public access to courtrooms in cases ranging from bail hearings to standard trials.

There are some cases in which closing courtrooms to the public is legal, and the circumstances for this are carefully outlined in official Georgia State documents that make the points for legality clear. But according to a recent report in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, investigations by the state’s judicial oversight commission found the practice of sealing off courtroom access widespread across Georgia — and in most cases, illegally.

Instead of typical open courts, there are now signs posted on courtroom doors stating access is denied to either the general public or specific groups of people, including kids. Bailiffs sometimes stand in place of the signs, blocking entry to the court despite people’s legal right to go in, said Robert Ingram, an attorney from Marietta, Ga., and chairman of the state’s Judicial Qualifications Commission.

“We’ve had our own investigators and commissioners go out and visit a courtroom and they have been greeted by a bailiff or a deputy sheriff and been told to state their business or otherwise they don’t need to be there,” Ingram said.

But why the closed rooms and bans on view judicial proceedings in the first place? Under Georgia’s law, closing off or banning someone from the courtroom can be done at a judge’s discretion. For instance, an unruly or disruptive person, whether child or adult, can be removed. Or there may be a case not considered proper for people under the age of 18 to attend.

More often, however, judges these days claim they are keeping out the public because of lack of space in the courtroom. One instance that put this closed court behavior in the spotlight was the jury selection for Andrea Sneiderman, in which DeKalb Superior Court Judge Gregory Adams lifted the public ban stating that people who wished to be present for the selection had the right to do so.

Seemingly arbitrary court closures by judges in the Peach State are nothing new. Back in 2011, Barbra Mobley, a DeKalb County State Court Judge, resigned after investigations were launched by the Judicial Qualifications Commission alleging that her court featured bailiffs questioning people illegally about why they wanted to observe the cases on the docket.

The phenomenon is occurring statewide. In both Crisp and Ben Hill counties, the Southern Center for Human Rights (SCHR) filed suit against the practice of closing courts to the public. In those counties, it’s been common that courts remain closed off even to the family members of both victims and the accused, other than their attendance at guilt pleas during the trials’ conclusions.

Further investigations have showed that closed courts are more common than first thought. According Gerry Weber of SCHR, this is causing a major problem with transparency. “A closed courtroom is one that is less accountable to the public. What is done behind closed doors can be different to what is done in the cold light of day,” he said.

Many judges are following the closed court lead, including Judge T. Jackson Bedford of the Fulton County Superior Court, Judge Clarence Seeliger of the DeKalb County Superior Court, and Judge Patsy Porter of Fulton State Court. Attempts by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution to contact these servants of the people were unsuccessful, as were the attempts made by Occupy.com.

There are some positive signs as well, however. Judge Christopher Brasher of Fulton Superior Court says he was unaware that the practice of closing courts was occurring in his courtroom, and quickly put a stop to it. Brasher attributed the action to “overzealous deputies, who provide security and order.” He has since ordered that no one be keep out of the court, and that no signs excluding any specific group be put up without his written consent.

Judges Todd Markle and Robert McBurney, both of Fulton Superior Court, say they were not aware the public was being deterred with signs from entering their courts, and that this step was taken without their permission. However, there is debate about the judges’ knowledge of the situation. Each county sheriff’s department is responsible for court security, and Fulton County Sheriff’s Department spokesperson Tracy Flanagan says they do not make or affix signs nor are signs permitted without the consent of the presiding judge.

The Judicial Qualifications Commission issued an opinion on the matter, from the commission’s director Jeff Davis who said massive amounts of complaints have come from the public about access to courtrooms. “Our efforts to educate judges about these issues have resulted in the type of response we would have anticipated,” said Davis.

“Judges are complying with the opinion and modifying practices accordingly. Since the issuance of our Opinion, we have been encouraged by the response of judges and the willingness to bring their courts into full compliance with the law.”

Encounters with Pro Se Litigants

http://www.atlantatrial.com/encounters-pro-se-litigants/

Encounters with pro se litigants

by Daniel DeWoskin

June 1st, 2011

We have all heard that a lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client. Many of us have had occasion to walk into a courtroom, be it in magistrate, state, or even superior court, only to find that the courtroom is packed with pro se parties waiting to have their matters adjudicated. Watching inexperienced people handle their legal matters can at times be entertaining and at other times extremely frustrating. We observe these parties fumbling with rules regarding cross-examination or the admission of evidence. It is almost always apparent that these people are uncomfortable, intimidated, and unaware of how much they do not know about prosecuting or defending a legal action. Out of necessity, desperation, or perhaps stubbornness, many people still choose to represent themselves in court.

Is it hubris that causes these people, these “fools,” to represent themselves? The fact is that many parties are representing themselves because they could neither find, nor afford, counsel in a particular matter. These situations can be simply tragic. Many times, these persons are out-maneuvered by an attorney because they fail to acknowledge procedure or to understand the application of law to a particular issue. These people may lose their cases solely because their temperament or demeanor has overshadowed the presentation of evidence in their cases. There is not much of a fix to this problem, as the courts cannot take it upon themselves to advise pro se parties lest they cease to be impartial to some extent.

As attorneys, it can be like watching a train wreck. And yet, even watching the least capable pro se parties, I have to give them credit for having the nerve to walk into court, to stand before a group of strangers, and to engage in public speaking for which the outcome may have dire consequences. It is refreshing and impressive when some of these individuals have taken the time to conduct research into their legal issues and patiently wait for certain cues from the court as they advocate for their position. We have all seen these cues ignored at times by the most experienced and knowledgeable attorneys.

I myself have dealt with pro se parties and can say that I have always found it to be troublesome. When dealing with a pro se party, I am always cautious to avoid ever giving legal advice to the other party. I have a duty to my client and my responsibility to zealously represent his or her interests cannot be compromised. I also have a duty to deal fairly and honestly with my opponent. In these situations, it can be challenging to set the right tone so that I do not inadvertently escalate any hostility that may already be present in the litigation. Even by making very deliberate choices as to how I speak with my opponent can backfire, causing more work and headache for everyone involved, including the court.

Any lawyer who has dealt with pro se parties is likely to say that there is some measure of comfort when dealing with represented parties. Pro se parties are always personally involved in the matter at hand and can often have difficulty taking a step back so that they might see their opponents’ arguments for what they are. If these people were not personally involved, they would not deem the matter worth their time or attention in the first place. When both parties are represented by experienced and professional counsel, knowledge of law and courtesy generally help govern the course of litigation. This is quite the contrast between the emotion and intimidation that can be in play in pro se litigation.

There are also times where we as attorneys sit down in a crowded court and have the person seated beside us turn and ask, “Are you an attorney?” This usually means that we are about to be asked if we can answer a quick question that is never quick and never isolated. When I find myself in this position, I usually resort to recommending that the person ask for a continuance and seek counsel, but I am always professional and polite so that I do not seem to be turning my back on them. As opposed to explaining that I need to be paid for my services, which is true, I have found that people respond better when I explain that without a thorough review of the particular facts of both parties and their assertions, I am not able to provide them with a reliable answer.

It is extremely important in our justice system for people to have access to the courts, even when they cannot afford counsel. Our judges do a good job demonstrating patience and appreciation for the rights of pro se parties, and yet I am continually perplexed by how many people will try to handle a complex litigation matter without doing any homework. While I doubt these same people would handle their own dental work, sometimes I just have to wonder.

I am disappointed when I see pro se parties get intimidated by attorneys in court. There are those rare moments when one of these parties, outgunned and out of their element, has done the legwork and prevails in court. If you have never seen this in action, it is something to behold. Recently, I spoke to a young woman who succeeded in defending herself in a civil action. It was rather remarkable. I was impressed by the quality of her research and preparation, and she was impressed by how ignorant and unprepared her attorney counterpart was.

I suppose the takeaway from this encounter was that we should never take our opponents for granted. So, while a lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client, there is no substitute for preparation, knowledge of the law and facts, and humility in a court of law. As lawyers, we should try to find the balance between stressing the value of qualified counsel and understanding why people may still choose to represent themselves. Instead of dismissing all these people as foolhardy, perhaps we should first caution them, then suggest where they might find the resources to empower them in their decision. In the end, if they do follow through with the research, it should demonstrate that what we do is unique, precise, and specialized.

As lawyers, we are aware of the dangers of pro se litigation. We know the troubles that lurk in handling matters without knowing the facts, the law, and the applicable procedure. For those who do not know these dangers, we must act as stewards. We may benefit these people and the system in general without giving out free legal advice, but also without treating what we do as beyond the reach of a dedicated individual with something to prove. Once again, many of these individuals do not have a choice, and nobody in our community benefits from a system that breeds intimidation and contempt.

Article appears in the DeKalb Bar Association Newsletter

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