John Morgan (State Court Judge, Division 1, Post 3)
1. What is your level of business experience?
I have been practicing law for 26 years. As a partner in the law firm of Gentry, Smith, Dettmering, Morgan, Schnatmeier & Collins, LLP, I have handled a variety of cases. For over 20 years I have represented plaintiffs in civil disputes, business owners in licensing disputes, contractual disputes as well as landlord-tenant issues. Since leaving prosecution in 1997, I have not only handled a wide variety of business litigation issues, but I have also been a business owner, which speaks to a higher level of “business experience.” Four of my partners and I own a building located just off the square here in Marietta. As a property owner and partner in a business, rather than simply an employee of a large firm, I am intimately familiar with the issues that accompany ownership of real estate, a business and all of the inherent issues that surround these interests, such as worker’s compensation expenses, business license requirements, property insurance, tax consequences, management of employees and payroll procedures, partnership agreements, and corporate agreements. I have truly enjoyed being a small business owner in the Cobb Community for almost 20 years, and my firm is proud to be an active member of the Cobb County Chamber of Commerce.
2. What procedure or process would you use for moving cases on the docket?
Cobb County State Court handles approximately 90,000 criminal and 8000 civil cases each year. While the judges, clerks, and prosecutors in Cobb County balance this caseload very well, improvements can always be made. First of all, criminal calendar calls are extremely time-consuming and labor intensive. A defendant’s attorney (and often the defendant) must appear in court to make an announcement concerning the status of their case. These calendars occur approximately every seven weeks, and often well over 100 cases may be scheduled for each one. The process of calling through each name and receiving a verbal response from each attorney is extremely time-consuming. In many instances, the attorneys merely wish to announce that they are ready for trial. Allowing the announcement to be made prior to the calendar call through email or mail would greatly reduce the necessity for multiple appearances by an attorney and alleviate the court’s docket as well. A reduction of the number of hours spent on criminal cases affords civil litigants greater access to the court. Additionally, in the civil arena I would require that pre-trial conferences be completed on the date of the pre-trial hearing. All too often the parties appear for a pre-trial conference only to announce their need for more time to finalize issues. The parties should resolve all pre-trial issues at the hearing date or be prepared to resolve them in a pre-trial conference with the court.
3. What is your level of legal experience?
I have been practicing law for 26 years. After graduating from the Mercer University School of Law in 1990, I passed both the Florida Bar and the State Bar of Georgia. My roots have been here in Cobb County since 1992 when I was hired as a prosecutor in Cobb County State Court, which handles general civil litigation and misdemeanor criminal cases. Not a week has gone by in the last 24 years that I have not been practicing law in some capacity in Cobb County State Court. As a Cobb County Prosecutor, I was responsible for prosecuting crimes such as domestic violence, DUI, theft cases, and drug offenses. I was also an instructor at the North Central Georgia Law Enforcement Academy where I assisted in the training of police officers in the legal system.
After over five years of public service, I left prosecution and went into private practice. I opened a law firm right here in Marietta, and for the past 20 years my practice has focused primarily on general civil litigation and criminal law. Since I have been in private practice and most recently as a partner with Gentry, Smith, Dettmering, Morgan, Schnatmeier & Collins, LLP, I have handled a variety of cases. I have represented plaintiffs in civil disputes, business owners in licensing disputes and individuals charged with various criminal offenses.
Shortly after leaving prosecution, I was privileged to be asked by Judge Toby Prodgers to fill in for him on occasion as a Judge in Cobb County State Court. As a result, other judges in jurisdictions such as the City of Marietta, City of Powder Springs, and Cobb County Juvenile Court began requesting that I fill in for them as well. I am also honored and humbled to be the only candidate seeking to succeed the Honorable Irma Glover (my former judge as I was the first prosecutor assigned to her courtroom when she took the bench in 1995) to have received the endorsement of both your current elected Solicitor General, Barry Morgan, and the Cobb County Fraternal Order of Police. These endorsements and experience in the capacity of Judge, Prosecutor, and private attorney make me uniquely qualified to be your next Cobb County State Court Judge.
4. What is your position on creating a business court and domestic relations court in Cobb County as has been done in other jurisdictions?
Domestic relations issues as they pertain to divorces fall under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Superior Court. Crimes of domestic violence, as they relate to domestic relations issues, fall under the jurisdiction of both the Superior Court and the State Court. If the domestic violence offense rises to the level of a felony, it would be handled exclusively in Superior Court while, if it is categorized as a misdemeanor, it would generally be handled in State Court. Since I am a candidate for State Court rather than Superior Court, I will address this question as it pertains to State Court.
With regard to a business court, we are very fortunate in Cobb County State Court in that there currently is no backlog of civil cases on any of the State Court dockets. As will be discussed in response to question number 5 (infra) there should never be a delay in scheduling a case (whether it is a business dispute or a personal injury issue) onto a trial calendar in Cobb County State Court because in Cobb, unlike many jurisdictions, an attorney can stipulate the case to a pretrial calendar without the need for consent from the other party. Once the Clerk is notified that the discovery process has been completed, the case will be automatically placed on a pretrial calendar. Almost half of a Superior Court calendar is occupied by divorce cases and felony cases. Both of these types of cases can be very time consuming if they require a jury trial. While State Court often handles a greater volume of criminal cases than Superior Court, those cases are often far less complex and take significantly less time to conduct a trial. While the civil cases handled in both Cobb Superior Court and State Court are often equally complex, the State Court docket often addresses civil cases more expeditiously due to the lack of felony cases and divorces. While I am not opposed to the implementation of a business court, we are fortunate in Cobb County State Court that we do not face the challenge of a backlog of cases that perhaps would necessitate such a court, as may be the case in other jurisdictions.
As this question relates to domestic relations, as mentioned, State Court does not hold jurisdiction over divorce issues. However, State Court does handle domestic relations issues as they relate to crimes involving domestic violence. In Cobb County, the State Court presently utilizes a domestic violence court. Run by the Cobb County Solicitor General’s office, this program is designed to handle incidents of domestic violence involving individuals that have not previously been arrested. Because of their “first offender” status, these individuals are often eligible to participate in a diversion program. Essentially their case is diverted from criminal prosecution, and they are offered an opportunity for their charges to be dismissed provided they have never been charged with a criminal offense before and are willing to participate in a domestic violence intervention program. Once they complete the program, a State Court Judge will sign an order, presented by the prosecutor, dismissing the charge(s) against them. If they do not successfully complete the domestic violence program, their case is returned to State Court for prosecution. Because this program has been proven to be very successful, I am a strong advocate for it.
5. What are your ideas on how to improve efficiency and reduce the length of time civil disputes are pending before the court?
Of all the jurisdictions in Metro Atlanta, Cobb State Court currently has in place the best system for expediting trials. There should never be a delay in getting a case onto a trial calendar in Cobb County because in Cobb, unlike many other jurisdictions, an attorney can stipulate the case to a pretrial calendar without the need for consent of the other party. Once the Clerk is notified that discovery has been completed, the case will be automatically placed on a pretrial calendar. Some jurisdictions have begun entering Scheduling Orders, but they are not necessary in all cases. In order to further increase efficiency, I would suggest offering a telephone conference to any attorney who, at any stage of the litigation, advises that some special issue has arisen or might arise. If all of the issues cannot be resolved via the telephone conference, at that point a Scheduling Order can be utilized to resolve those remaining issues. I am highly cognizant that litigants, whether in a business dispute or a personal injury matter, desire closure when it comes to litigation. Many businesses and litigants are often frustrated by the delays precipitated by the filing of unnecessary motions on the part of recalcitrant parties. When frivolous motions present themselves to the Court, I would be willing to award attorney’s fees (as the Civil Practice Act mandates, but which is not often applied) in discovery disputes. Also set forth in the same Civil Practice Act is the requirement that hearings cannot be held within less than 30 days. As a result, I would strive to set necessary hearings to take place within 45 days. I would endeavor to move the Court’s business in the same manner I have moved my cases in private practice: work with counsel, settle the cases that can be settled, and try the ones that cannot.
6. What United States Supreme Court Justice do you most admire and why?
Without doubt, Antonin Scalia is the justice I have admired most on the U.S. Supreme Court. He served on the Supreme Court for almost 30 years and was known as a brilliant jurist. No other Justice on the Court played a more important role in shaping American Jurisprudence during his tenure than Justice Scalia. He believed strongly in the strict interpretation of the U.S. Constitution and was steadfast in his position that it was not the role of the courts to modify the plain meaning of the document to reflect the political and cultural climate of the day. Justice Scalia was a staunch opponent of judicial activism and believed that, as a general rule, changes in the law should come through the legislature and not through the judicial branch. He also believed strongly in state’s rights and limiting the power of the Federal government. I also always enjoyed reading his opinions because he used some of the most colorful language of any of the Justices, especially when he was writing a dissenting opinion. Our current government faces a monumental task as they seek to fill the vacancy created by the immense loss of his presence on the Supreme Court of the United States.
7. Describe the type and nature of cases you handled in private (or public) practice?
At the beginning of my career, I was a trial attorney for the Cobb County Solicitor General’s Office. In this capacity, I prosecuted a variety of criminal cases with a specialty in prosecuting drunk drivers and those charged with domestic violence. In addition to training new prosecutors, I taught criminal law and procedure at the North Georgia Law Enforcement Training Center to law enforcement officers.
Since I have been in private practice and most recently as a partner with Gentry, Smith, Dettmering, Morgan, Schnatmeier & Collins, LLP, my caseload has varied from representing plaintiffs in civil disputes, business owners in licensing disputes, and individuals charged with various criminal offenses. I also serve on occasion as a judge pro hac vice in Cobb County State Court and as an Associate Municipal Court Judge in the City of Marietta, the City of Powder Springs, and the City of Woodstock. In these courts, I preside over cases involving misdemeanor offenses, traffic offenses, and various ordinance violations. I regularly sit as a judge pro tempore in Cobb County Juvenile Court as well.
My current scope of experience allows me to appear in Cobb County State Court on a daily basis.
8. Are you a member of GDLA or ATLA? What other legal related organizations are you a member?
I am not a member of GDLA or ATLA. However, I have been a member of the Cobb County Bar Association for 24 years, and I am proud to say that I am a founding member of the Marietta Lawyers Club since 2008.