Georgia Bar Media & Judiciary Conference in Its 22nd Year

by Stephanie J. Wilson
For 22 years, judges, attorneys and journalists have gathered to discuss current issues impacting the First Amendment. This year’s conference focused heavily on the consequences—good and bad—of social media and its use. Whether you use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube or all of the above, the program provided useful information.

The first session was “Lawyers and Social Media: Promoting Practices and Protecting the Profession.” Hyde Post, Hyde Post Communications, Saint Simons Island, served as moderator. The panelists were Robin Frazer Clark, president, State Bar of Georgia, Robin Frazer Clark PC, Atlanta; Jay Cook, past president (2006-07), State Bar of Georgia, Cook Noell Tolley & Bates LLP, Athens; Toby Bloomberg, director of social integration, Cox Media Group, Atlanta; and Allison Fabella, director of search engine optimization and social media, Primedia, Atlanta.

As Fabella told the audience, “Your reputation online is very important.” You can use your website and social media to set you apart from the crowd. But she warned, “Be sure to always look professional, even in your personal life.”

The second panel of the day was “Judges and Social Media: Harnessing the Beast” moderated by Ed Bean, editor-in-chief and associate publisher, Daily Report, Atlanta. Hon. Robert Leonard, Cobb County Superior Court, Marietta; Hon. Leslie Spornberger Jones, Municipal Court of Athens-Clarke County, Athens; and Hon. Robert Struble, past member, Judicial Qualifications Commission, Mountain Judicial Circuit Superior Court, Toccoa, served as the panelists.
Prior to the next panel a social media survey was distributed to the audience. The survey asked users to complete the following questions:
·      I am on:
o   Facebook (69 percent answered yes)
o   Twitter (43 percent answered yes)
o   LinkedIn (65 percent answered yes)
o   None of them, ever (18 percent answered yes)
·      I am friends with judges on Facebook. (18 percent answered yes)
·      Would you consider asking a judge to recuse if he or she was friends with an opposing attorney on Facebook? (46 percent answered yes)
·      Where the presiding judge in a criminal case has accepted the prosecutor assigned to the case as a Facebook “friend,” would a reasonably prudent person fear that he could not get a fair and impartial trial, so that the defendant’s motion for disqualification should be granted? (46 percent answered yes)

The final question was offered in response to an advisory opinion issued by The Florida Bar in which judges are not allowed to accept Facebook “friend” requests from attorneys who might appear in their court. They are likewise not allowed to accept LinkedIn connection requests.

Struble, the more senior of the panelists, who also admitted to being a “monk” when it comes to social media, stated that judges must avoid the appearance of impropriety. When asked if judges should have social media policies for their employees and family members, Struble said, “Yes. It’s in the code of judicial conduct.” He also felt that judges who are Facebook “friends” with anyone appearing in their court should recuse themselves. Leonard didn’t go quite that far but did say that recusal would be appropriate if a judge had made commentary on a case or had communication with a lawyer.

Leonard shared his belief that campaign contributors, golf buddies and fishing buddies are closer friends than those on Facebook. He said that Facebook can be a valuable tool in campaigning. In fact, many judicial candidates create special election Facebook pages. This practice is so prevalent that “you almost have to do it now.”

Jones, who purposefully does not have a personal Facebook page, said that when she decided to accept a judgeship, she agreed to “walk the line.”

The third panel, “New Journalists and Journalism: Opportunities and Challenges Facing the Next Generation of Reporters,” allowed panelists Sara Ganim, Pulitzer Prize winning reporter, CNN, Atlanta; Polina Marinova, former editor-in-chief, The Red & Black, Athens; Kristen Rasmussen, formerly with Reporters for the Committee for Freedom of the Press, now Dow Lohnes PLLC, Atlanta; and Tim Regan-Porter, director, Center for Collaborative Journalism, Mercer University, Macon, to discuss how new ideas, new rules of engagement and a new generation of journalists are changing the media landscape. Frank LoMonte, Student Press Law Center, Arlington, Va., served as the moderator.

Many other fresh-faced journalists were in the audience and asked questions of the panelists regarding the benefits and drawbacks of making the transition from print to digital media. Marinova shared that she, “enjoyed working on a daily newspaper” but that she realizes that “that’s not the direction this industry is headed.”

Regan-Porter discussed the teaching hospital approach that the Center for Collaborative Journalism has taken on the campus of Mercer University. Student journalists get to shadow seasoned journalists from Macon’s newspaper The Telegraph and from Georgia Public Broadcasting gaining invaluable real-world experience. Mercer and its partners have created one of the largest journalism/community projects in the country and a model for higher education/media collaborations in other cities.

For the lunch session, Paul M. Barrett, author of Glock: The Rise of America’s Gun, was on hand for a conversation and audience Q&A about all things to do with guns titled, “Glock, Gun Control and the American Love Affair with Firearms.” Barrett is also an adjunct professor at NYU School of Law and an assistant managing editor and senior writer at Bloomberg Businessweek.Jessica Thill, CNN, Atlanta, facilitated the discussion. One of the many timely gun-related topics covered by Barrett and Thill was that of gun control. A Glock 17 pistol was among the weapons used by a mentally disturbed George Hennard in the 1995 mass murder at a Luby’s cafeteria in Killen, Texas. Barrett said, “Mass killers—who don’t intend on escaping and living through the incident—are mentally disturbed. Talking about mental illness when discussing gun control is essential.”

Following the lunch session, Richard Griffiths, CNN, Atlanta, was back again to serve as interlocutor for a Fred Friendly style panel. In this year’s salacious scenario, Larry Headstrong is a Formula 2 race car driver who is accused of spiking his gas tanks with jet fuel. Headstrong is facing perjury charges and a lifetime ban from racing. All the panelists had a role to play as the story unfolded: Shannon McCaffrey, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Atlanta, was the reporter who broke the story; Vic Reynolds, district attorney, Cobb County, was the DA considering filing charges; Karen Zuker, CNN, Atlanta, was the talk show booker attempting to get Headstrong to sit for an interview; Tom Donahue, Porter Novelli, Atlanta, was the public relations consultant; and Seth Kirschenbaum, Davis Zipperman, Kirschenbaum & Lotito, Atlanta, was the defense attorney trying his best to counsel his client.

The final session was “Criminal Justice Reform: The Next Chapter,” a follow-up to last year’s “Criminal Justice Reform: Opportunities and Obstacles.” Once again, Mike Klein, Georgia Public Policy Foundation, Atlanta, moderated the panel discussion. Chief Justice Carol Hunstein, Supreme Court of Georgia; David McDade, district attorney, Douglas County; and Rep. Wendell Willard (R-Sandy Springs) made a reappearance as panelists. Joining them this year were Judge Michael P. Boggs, Court of Appeals of Georgia; and Bill Rankin, Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The panelists presented some staggering statistics:
·      Georgia has the fourth largest prison population in the United States.
·      One in 13 Georgia citizens is on parole, on probation or in jail.
·      The annual cost to house an adult inmate is $19,000.

This last figure is why many jurists advocate for drug courts, which cost far less per year at only $4,300. If the figures for adult incarceration seem high, consider those for juveniles: $90,000 per bed, per year at a detention center. And the recidivism rate? Sixty-four percent of juveniles will be re-incarcerated within three years of their release.

Both adult and juvenile criminal justice reform have been hot topics in the Legislature this session. As of this printing, HB 242, the Juvenile Justice bill, passed the Senate by unanimous vote. The bill moves the state away from a prison-based system of juvenile punishment toward an increased focus on community-based programs aimed at rehabilitating juvenile offenders and returning them to the community as productive citizens. The adult counterpart, HB 349, also passed the Senate this session.

For more information about past, present of future Bar Media & Judiciary Conferences, please visit
Stephanie J. Wilson is the administrative assistant in the State Bar of Georgia’s communications department and a contributing writer for the Georgia Bar Journal.

Reprinted with permission from the Georgia Bar Journal, Volume 18, Number 6, April 2013. Copyright State Bar of Georgia. Statements expressed within this article should not be considered endorsements of products or procedures by the State Bar of Georgia.


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