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Georgia Court of Appeals in session at Averitt Center
GA Court of Appeals

Early voting ends Friday

Friday is the last day of early voting for the general election.

Bulloch County Election Supervisor Pat Lanier Jones said that given the traffic the Georgia Court of Appeals session will bring to downtown Statesboro, including around the Bulloch County Courthouse, people who want to cast votes should consider going to the other available location, the Honey Bowen Building, 1 Max Lockwood Drive, at least through lunchtime.

The courthouse and Honey Bowen will both be open for early voting from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

As of 3:30 p.m. Thursday, 3,242 ballots had been cast in Bulloch County, and the Elections and Voter Registration Office has mailed 652 ballots, Jones said.

After Friday, the absolute last chance to vote is Election Day, which is Tuesday. All voting precincts throughout the county will be open that day from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

— From staff reports


Beginning at 10 a.m. Friday, a three-judge panel of the Georgia Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments from attorneys in three real cases in the Emma Kelly Theater at the Averitt Center for the Arts in downtown Statesboro.

The session is open to the public. About 170 high school students from Statesboro High School and Bulloch Academy are scheduled to attend. The Bulloch County Bar Association sent teachers of government classes the case briefs, and member lawyers spoke to the classes to give students an idea what they will hear.

"I'm sure they would find it interesting anyway, but this way, they actually know what the issues are, they know when the judges are asking questions the context in which the questions are being asked," said attorney Susan Cox, a member of the Bulloch County Bar Association and of the State Bar of Georgia's board of governors.

The local bar association also provided the case briefs to some Georgia Southern University political science and criminal justice professors in hope that university students might attend. The association invited the court to come to Statesboro prior to a meeting of the State Bar board of governors Saturday at Jekyll Island.

The court

The Court of Appeals consists of 12 judges, who form three-judge panels to look at cases for the first time. If the three judges disagree, a seven-judge panel is formed, and in cases believed to be of particularly high importance, all 12 judges will hear a case, explained Steve Castlen, the clerk of the Court of Appeals.

The Georgia Supreme Court, which at times also meets outside Atlanta, met in Statesboro a decade or more ago, and that was the last time either of the state's appellate-level courts met here, Cox said.

Unlike the state Supreme Court, which always hears from attorneys in person, the Appeals Court makes the vast majority of its rulings without hearing oral arguments, after reading the briefs and reviewing the record from the lower courts. In this way, and with its multiple panels, the Appeals Court is able to handle almost 3,500 appeals a year.

"We are the busiest appellate court in the country, and I would say that the Georgia Court of Appeals decides cases faster than any other court in the country," Castlen said.

The Georgia Constitution requires that the court give an opinion in the next term after a case is placed on its docket, and there are three terms each year, he explained.
Of about 40 oral argument days each year, only four are held outside Atlanta.

Attorneys must ask to present oral argument, and are not always granted the opportunity. Sometimes, attorneys hope to explain what has happened better than could be gleaned from the written records. Other times, the case presents a novel situation.

"You have to give them a reason to hear it ...," Cox said. "In these cases, the parties felt there was something to be gained by having oral argument, and the court agreed."

The judges, the cases

Court of Appeals Chief Judge Herbert E. Phipps, from Albany; Presiding Judge John J. Ellington, from Soperton; and Judge Carla Wong McMillian, originally from Augusta, will hear argument in the following three appeals Friday:

— Diane Eldredge Davis v. Oladayo Osinuga, MD, and East Point Primary Care, a medical malpractice case on appeal from DeKalb County State Court.
— In the Interest of B.R.F./B.R.M., a Child, a parental rights termination appeal from Pike County.
— Carl Desmond Johnson v. State of Georgia, the appeal of Johnson's armed robbery conviction in Gwinnett County.

Questions raised in the Johnson case include whether he should have been convicted of armed robbery if no evidence was presented that he had an actual weapon, and whether the trial court properly excluded the fact that he had entered a negotiated guilty plea to a lesser charge, robbery by intimidation, from a similar incident in DeKalb County. He was, however, given the opportunity to testify and did not do so.

Before hearing the cases, the judges will conduct a swearing-in ceremony for area attorneys being admitted to argue future cases before the Court of Appeals.

To be seated and witness all the proceedings, people should arrive by around 9:15 a.m., Cox recommended.

The Bulloch County Bar Association invited the judges, attorneys and clerks to a tailgating event at Georgia Southern University's Garden of the Coastal Plain prior to Thursday's Eagles game and to lunch Friday at The Hall by 40 East.

Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9454.


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