Note: the opinions and observations contained below are my own only, and do not necessarily reflect those of the individuals or agencies named below. I take full and sole responsibility for everything I’ve said.
On April 25, 2018, I had the great pleasure to be a part of a contingent of Georgia Municipal Court Judges who met with a delegation of Municipal Court Judges from the Country of Georgia at the State Bar Headquarters as part of an international information exchange program through the Open World Program. Atlanta has a ‘sister city’ in Tbilisi in the country of Georgia. In 1999, Congress authorized the Open World program as a Legislative Branch agency that offers bipartisan support to Members of Congress in creating cultural exchanges for Eurasian leaders to witness democracy building in action.
Georgian Judges Violeta Porchkhidze, Ekaterine Kululashvili, Temur Gogokhia, Vasil Mshvenieradze, Tsitsino Mosidze, and Law Professor Dimitry Gegenava met with State of Georgia Municipal Court Judges Lori Duff (me!), John Roberts, Chung Lee, Garland Moore, JaDawnya Baker, and James Anderson, and Johns Creek Clerk Trina Gallien. Administrative Office of the Courts Trial Court Liaison LaShawn Murphy was also present. The meeting was sponsored by Hall Booth Smith, P.C. and hosted by its Marketing Director, Nina Tickaradze.
It was an interesting round table discussion. Georgia (the country) has a legal system that is relatively new, only about 20 years old. It had the advantage of seeing how legal systems in Europe and North America operate and taking what it saw to be the best of all systems and packaging them into its own system. Its jury system is only four years old, and therefore there have only been a handful of jury cases tried in the whole country.
Many things were familiar to all of us. The rights afforded to a criminal defendant were very much the same. They leaned harder on the right to have an attorney, however – they found it puzzling that we did not require a criminal defendant to have an attorney in every case. “How can they intelligently negotiate their own pleas? Especially juveniles and people with mental illnesses?” They asked. We shrugged our shoulders. The flip side to freedom is being free to make bad decisions. You can’t force an attorney on someone who doesn’t want one. That’s not freedom.
They asked us a lot about judicial independence. Since their system is new they can institute best practices from the beginning and not have to struggle to put it in place on the back end. Interestingly, they noted that their judiciary is about 75% female. I noted that the Alcovy Circuit has never had a female Superior Court Judge and that I was currently the only presiding female judge in Walton County. They were flabbergasted by that statistic.
The main difference was in how their courts are divided as compared to ours. Whereas we have traffic courts and probate courts and magistrate courts and superior courts on the trial level, they just have criminal and civil and administrative courts on the trial level. Constitutional matters are a whole other class of court. We had some interesting, rather nerdy conversations about what happens when the two overlap.
Or course, they didn’t speak English and we didn’t speak Georgian, so everything went through a translator, who was forced to translate very quickly, as lawyers aren’t known for coming up for air very often in any part of the world. Our senses of humor and justice seemed to be similar, and we all seemed to want to do right by our courts and the people that come in front of us. In the end, no matter where you are, that’s probably what you want a judge to be.