Georgia’s 159 counties

When people call us about a potential lawsuit for wrongful death or catastrophic injury in Georgia, one of the topics they sometimes find confusing is the decision about where to file a suit.

The choice of court in which to file suit involves the interaction of subject matter jurisdiction, personal jurisdiction, and venue. In general, subject matter jurisdiction dictates which courts have the authority to hear cases regarding a generalized subject matter. Personal jurisdiction refers to the authority of a specific court to enforce its judgment as to a particular defendant. Venue rules

GSA RBR Renovations
U.S. Courthouse, Atlanta

Dax Lopez is a judge of the State Court of DeKalb County, nominated by lame-duck President Obama to fill a vacant seat  on the U.S. District court in Atlanta, as an apparent bipartisan compromise to fill the seat with Republican approval.  Surprisingly for an Obama nominee, Judge Lopez is a conservative Republican, a longtime member of the conservative Federalist Society, and a graduate of the Coverdell Leadership Institute which is  the forerunner of the current Republican Leadership for Georgia program. He was initially appointed as a judge by conservative Republican Governor Sonny

In 2011, as I prepared to take office as president of the State Bar of Georgia, this was the topic of brainstorming with lawyers and judges. After discussing it with then Chief Justice Carol W. Hunstein, we decided to form the Next Generation Courts Commission. I appointed judges, court clerks, court administrators and practicing lawyers from each class of court and all parts of Georgia. As chair, I picked Superior Court  Judge Lawton Stephens, a former legislator from Athens and major wit.

The Next Generation Courts Commission was was given a broad mission to develop recommendations for

Cruise ships are like floating cities with thousands of passengers on board. Usually a lot more fun than the typical workaday city, but probably no less likely to involve accidents and injuries.

Cruise ship lines cannot guarantee that no one will get hurt aboard, but they do have a responsibility to prevent dangerous conditions on board that can cause serious injury to its passengers. When a cruise ship accident occurs because of poor maintenance, incompetent or  improperly trained employees, inadequate safety equipment or emergency precautions, the cruise  line can be held accountable.

Cruise ship tickets typically have a provision that

I noted earlier that a pay raise for federal judges had been included in the bailout bill for the auto industry.  Now the judicial pay raise has bitten the dust, at least temporarily, because it was draining votes from the legislation.

Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri announced on the Senate floor she would oppose the bill unless the judicial pay raise  provision was stripped from the auto bailout. Sen. McCaskill is quoted as saying:

Wrong time. Wrong place. We have the highest unemployment in this country that we have had in decades…. Federal judges get lifetime appointments, and they never take a dime’s cut in pay.

I always enthusiastically support judges when they seek pay raises.  I strongly agree that they should be paid at a level that is competitive with what they would make in private practice. Ideally, they should be paid at least double their current salaries.

See this article about a speech by 11th Circuit Judge Peter Fay who points out that if judicial salaries had kept up with inflation since 1970, district court judges should  be making about $342,000, and that their counterparts in Great Britain are paid the equivalent of $318,168.

I agree with Judge Fay.

Of course, the idea of raising judicial salaries includes recognition of their own strong professional qualities and the probability that many of them could make more money if they left the bench to join a big law firm willing to pay for their experience, insights, prestige and possible influence with their former colleagues.  It may also include some consideration of the facts that they get paid every month, do not have wild fluctuations of income, have no entrepreneurial risk, and do not have to pay for office overhead or private health insurance with rapidly spiraling premium rates. And they are certainly not at risk of seeing all their hard-earned profits for a year or two suddenly evaporate because a   judge ignores the evidence and misconstrues the law in order to make an inscrutable ruling in favor of a former court staff member.

In good times, the disparity between private practice and judicial salaries is fairly obvious.  It is a more complex analysis in a recession when millions of Americans are out of work and/or facing foreclosure, even large law firms are laying off lawyers and staff, and many small firm and solo lawyers are struggling.

It is customary for members of Congress and federal judges to have the same salary.  Congress is set for a $5,000 raise on January 1, and the proposal was to give judges the same raise to maintain parity.

Perhaps in solidarity with the American people who are hurting now, Congress should give up its own pay raise for the duration of the recession, and then come back later  with a strong pay raise for both Congress and the judiciary.  At that point, it would be appropriate to increase the salaries of both well beyond a paltry $5,000 adjustment.

Those of us whose livelihood depends upon the decisions of judges almost always genuflect for any suggestion of a pay raise for judges. I have done it before and I will do it again.  I genuflect even though in this economy there are countless well-qualified attorneys who would gladly swap places with federal judges who have lifetime appointments, steady salaries, good benefits, no overhead, and no entrepreneurial risk.

Now we learn that a well-deserved and totally uncontroversial cost of living adjustment for federal judges has been tucked into the automobile manufacturers bailout legislation. Under this proposal, US district court judges and members of Congress, both of whom earn $169,300 a year, will get a $5,000 raise on January 1, and  are expected to be awarded a 2.8 percent raise next year.

At 12:45 AM this morning, the driver of the Somerset Food Service tractor-trailer was killed on I-75 in Kentucky when a Chevrolet van crossed the median into the northbound lanes and stopped. The tractor-trailer and a Ford pick-up truck were in northbound lanes and unable to avoid collision according to media reports.

When representing truck drivers injured by the negligence of operators of "four wheelers," we always check to find out if the trucking company’s insurance policy includes uninsured / underinsured motorist (UM) coverage for the truck driver. Some carry UM coverage equal to their liability coverage.

As an Atlanta lawyer handling both defective product and motor carrier cases, I have been troubled over the past several years by a trend of federal agencies seeking to block juries from ever getting a chance to consider the evidence  against manufacturers through the doctrine of federal preemption, often beyond anything expressly intended by Congress. Unfortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court has been lending support to that doctrine. Now, however, U. S. District Judge William R. Wilson, Jr., in the Eastern District of Arkansas, has forthrightly "called a spade a spade."  In the case of In re: PREMPRO PRODUCTS LIABILITY LITIGATION, DONNA SCROGGIN  v. WYETH, et. al., MDL Docket No. 4:03CV1507-WRW, 4:04CV01169, Judge Wilson entered the following Order.


As Defendants note, I did state that I was “as confident as a Christian with four aces” with respect to my FDA preemption ruling. In view of the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Riegel v. Medtronic, Inc., 1128 S. Ct. 999 (2008). and other recent appellate decisions, my confidence, while still in place, is at a lower level.

It appears to me that an expansive reading of preemption is a part of the overall “assault upon the citadel of the right to trial by jury” (to paraphrase Cardozo). The finer points of the vice of too much preemption are well presented in Justice Ginsberg’s dissent in Riegel, and by Judge Thomas Ambro in his dissent in Colacicco v. Apotex, 22008 WL 927848, at *18-26 (3d Cir. April 8, 2008).  The thought underlying expansive preemption (“backdoor federalization”, Id. at 25.) is that bureaucratic experts are better at determining what is reasonable, what is too dangerous, etc., than are juries.
Over the past several years I believe all three branches of government have become more and more distrustful of juries. They seem to forget that a jury is a cross section of the citizens who elected them to office (or elected those who appointed them). In political campaigns these citizens are paragons of virtue; but when they are called for jury service, they somehow become
incapable of making important decisions. The language in the decisions favoring preemption is high flown; but, at bottom, it reflects distrust of the randomly selected citizens who sit on juries.

Perhaps our public officials, including judges, have read too much Plato and too little Alexis de Tocqueville. Trial by jury is the essence of government reposed in the people. We should trust this institution in fact, not just in word.

IT IS SO ORDERED this 16th day of April, 2008.
/s/ Wm. R. Wilson, Jr.

Last month there was a news story about the New Jersey Committee on Attorney Advertising, a panel appointed by the Supreme Court of New Jersey ruling that attorney advertisements that tout listings such as the “Super Lawyers” listings violate professional responsibility rules against ads that compare lawyers’ services or create an “unjustified expectation about results.”  That gave me pause, as it did the marketing folks at every big law firm in Atlanta, since the profile on my web site includes listings in the “Super Lawyers” issue of Atlanta Magazine, “Legal Elite” issue of Georgia Trend magazine, and the Bar Register of Preeminent Lawyers.

However, the Fulton County Daily Report published an article on August 11th reporting an analysis to the effect that,  while Georgia’s ethics rules contain proscriptions against comparative advertisements and ads that create unwarranted expectations, the language in Georgia is more permissive than that found in New Jersey’s ethics rules. The New Jersey rule prohibits as false and misleading any advertisement that “compares the lawyer’s services with other lawyers’ services.” Under Rule 7.1(a)(3) of the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct, the rule against comparisons does not apply if the comparison “can be factually substantiated.”

The “Super Lawyers,” “Legal Elite,” and “Preeminent Lawyers” lists are all based upon periodic surveys of our peers in the legal profession, and cannot be purchased.  While the methodology is certainly not perfect, neither is it meaningless or factually unsubstantiated.  Therefore, we will continue to include those designations on the web site.