OPINION: The heightened pleading standard established in 2009 is based on faulty propositions. Arthur H. Bryant, The National Law Journal


National Law Journal
http://www.nationallawjournal.com/printerfriendly/id=1202758245088

‘Iqbal’ Brings Seven Years of Bad Luck for Plaintiffs

OPINION: The heightened pleading standard established in 2009 is based on faulty propositions.
Arthur H. Bryant, The National Law Journal
May 23, 2016

The seventh anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2009 decision in Ashcroft v. Iqbal was May 18. It’s a date that should live in infamy.
A 5-4 decision, Iqbal ignored reality — and the fact that truth is stranger than fiction. It flouted the process for amending the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. And it particularly limited access to justice for civil rights, employment discrimination and individual plaintiffs.
Seventy years before Iqbal, in 1938, the Federal Rules were adopted to get rid of “fact” pleading, which the rule-makers thought “led to wasteful disputes about distinctions that … were arbitrary or metaphysical, too often cutting off adjudication on the merits.” Under the new Rule 8, to start a lawsuit, the plaintiff had to file a complaint with “a short and plain statement of the claim showing the pleader is entitled to relief.”
As the court later explained in Conley v. Gibson, the complaint did not have to “set out the facts in detail.” It just had to give the defendant “fair notice of what the plaintiff’s claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” A motion to dismiss would only be granted if “it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief.” Then, the plaintiff could take discovery, to find out what the defendant and other relevant people knew and when they knew it. After that, the court would determine whether there was sufficient proof to require a trial.
In Iqbal, the court rejected a complaint alleging that high-level U.S. officials had a Pakistani Muslim and thousands of other Arab men illegally arrested and detained after the 9/11 attacks because of “their race, religion, and national origin … and not because of any evidence” of their “involvement in supporting terrorist activity.”
To do so, the court changed the rules. It held that, from now on, to “survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Dismissal no longer turned on whether the complaint provided “fair notice” to the defendant; it turned on whether the claim was “plausible on its face.” How were judges to determine that? By drawing on their “judicial experience and common sense.”
Motions to dismiss were immediately filed throughout the federal courts. Judges’ and lawyers’ workloads increased enormously. The lower courts and lawyers are still struggling to figure out how the new system is supposed to work — and, if they can, make it fair.
For three reasons, however, it’s become increasingly clear that Iqbal was a mistake.
First, whatever one thinks about the allegations in the case, the Iqbal pleading standard is based on a proposition — allegations probably aren’t true if they’re not plausible on their face — that is false. Reality keeps teaching us that. None of us, including federal judges using their “judicial experience and common sense,” would have believed that any of the following was plausible a few years ago:
• Donald Trump would be the presumptive Republican Party nominee for president of the United States of America.
• A prominent candidate for president would propose banning all Muslims from entering America or call women “fat pigs,” “dogs” and “disgusting animals.”
• Same-sex marriage would be legal nationwide.
• The U.S. government would obtain and be able to search virtually all Ameri­cans’ phone records.
• Olympic champion Bruce Jenner would become a woman, Caitlyn Jenner.
• Federal, state and local governments would battle over what kind of bathroom people such as Caitlyn Jenner could use.
Similar implausible things happen every day.
Second, Iqbal effectively rewrote the Federal Rules without following the legally established rules for amending them. Under the Rules Enabling Act, before rules are changed, detailed procedures must be followed involving the Advisory Committees to the U.S. Judicial Con­ference’s Standing Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure; the Standing Committee itself; notice to and comment from lawyers, judges and the public; the U.S. Judicial Conference; the Supreme Court; and Congress — so the changes are fully considered and fair.
In 2002, the court unanimously rejected a company’s plea for a heightened pleading standard in employment discrimination cases, saying that result “must be obtained by the process of amending the Federal Rules, and not judicial interpretation.” It should have said that in Iqbal, too.
Third, Iqbal is especially harmful to civil rights, employment discrimination and individual plaintiffs. Last year, the most comprehensive study of Iqbal’s effects, “Measuring the Impact of Plausi­bility Pleading,” was published in the Virginia Law Review. It found that Iqbal increased dismissals of most cases by 10 percent, but employment discrimination and civil rights cases much more (16 percent and 19 percent, respectively). Cases filed by individuals were also dismissed far more often (18 percent), but not cases filed by corporations.
In theory, this could mean that only bad cases were dismissed more promptly. But, if that were true, a higher percentage of the cases remaining in court would succeed. They didn’t. These plaintiffs were just disproportionately denied a chance to prove their claims.
The high court should reverse the Iqbal decision. Whether cases proceed should turn on the facts and the law, not on whether judges think the allegations are plausible.
Arthur H. Bryant is the chairman of Public Justice, a national public interest law firm dedicated to advancing and preserving access to justice. His practice focuses on consumers’ rights, workers’ rights, civil rights, environmental protection, and corporate and government accountability.

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2016 STATE OF THE JUDICIARY ADDRESS THE HONORABLE CHIEF JUSTICE HUGH P. THOMPSON SUPREME COURT OF GEORGIA January 27, 2016, 11 a.m. House Chambers, State Capitol

016 STATE OF THE JUDICIARY ADDRESS
THE HONORABLE CHIEF JUSTICE HUGH P. THOMPSON
SUPREME COURT OF GEORGIA
January 27, 2016, 11 a.m.
House Chambers, State Capitol

Lt. Governor Cagle, Speaker Ralston, President Pro Tem Shafer, Speaker Pro Tem Jones, members of the General Assembly, my fellow judges and my fellow Georgians:
Good morning. Thank you for this annual tradition of inviting the Chief Justice to report on the State of Georgia’s Judiciary. Thanks in large part to your support and the support of our governor, as we move into 2016, I am pleased to tell you that your judicial branch of government is not only steady and secure, it is dynamic; it has momentum; and it is moving forward into the 21st century with a vitality and a commitment to meeting the inevitable changes before us.
Our mission remains the same: To protect individual rights and liberties, to uphold and interpret the rule of law, and to provide a forum for the peaceful resolution of disputes that is fair, impartial, and accessible to all.
Our judges are committed to these principles. Each day, throughout this state, they put on their black robes; they take their seat on the courtroom bench; and they work tirelessly to ensure that all citizens who come before them get justice.


Our Judicial Council is the policy-making body of the state’s judicial branch. It is made up of competent, committed leaders elected by their fellow judges and representing all classes of court. They are assisted by an Administrative Office of the Courts, which is under a new director – Cynthia Clanton – and has a renewed focus as an agency that serves judges and courts throughout Georgia.
A number of our judges have made the trip to be here today. Our judges are here today because the relationship we have with you is important. We share with you the same goal of serving the citizens of this great state. We could not do our work without your help and that of our governor.
On behalf of all of the judges, let me say we are extremely grateful to you members of the General Assembly for your judicial compensation appropriation last year.


Today I want to talk to you about Georgia’s 21st century courts – our vision for the future, the road we must travel to get there, and the accomplishments we have already achieved.
It has been said that, “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.”
Since a new state Constitution took effect in 1983, our population has nearly doubled to a little over 10 million, making us the 8th most populous state in the country. We are among the fastest growing states in the nation, and in less than four years, our population is projected to exceed 12 million.
Because it is good for our economy, we welcome that growth. Today, Georgia ranks
among states with the highest number of Fortune 500 companies, 20 of which have their global headquarters here; we have 72 four-year colleges and universities; we have the world’s busiest airport and we have two deep-water ports. Georgia is a gateway to the South, and for a growing number of people and businesses from around the world, it is a gateway to this country.
All of this growth produces litigation – increasingly complex litigation – and just as our state must prepare for this growth by ensuring we have enough roads and modes of transportation, enough doctors and hospitals, and enough power to reach people throughout the state, our courts also must be equipped and modernized for the 21st
century.
While our population has nearly doubled since 1983, the number of Georgia judges has
grown only 16 percent. We must work together to ensure that our judicial system has enough judges, staff and resources in the 21st century to fulfill the mission and constitutional duties our forefathers assigned to us.
A healthy, vibrant judiciary is absolutely critical to the economic development of our state. Thanks to many leaders in the judiciary, as well as to our partnership with the governor and to you in the legislature, we are well on our way to building a court system for the 21st century.


This time next year, with your support, we will have put into place an historic shift in the types of cases handled by the Georgia Supreme Court – the highest court in the state – and by the Court of Appeals – our intermediate appellate court. Thanks to Governor Deal’s Georgia Appellate Jurisdiction Review Commission, this realignment will bring the Supreme Court of Georgia in line with other state Supreme Courts, which handle only the most critical cases that potentially change the law. Serving on the Commission are two of my colleagues – Justice David Nahmias and Justice Keith Blackwell – as well as two judges from the Court of Appeals – Chief
Judge Sara Doyle and Judge Stephen Dillard.
I thank you, Justices and Judges, for your leadership.
Under the Georgia Constitution, Supreme Court justices collectively decide every case that comes before us. Currently the state’s highest court hears divorce and alimony cases; we hear cases involving wills; we hear cases involving titles to land; and we hear disputes over boundary lines.
But the Governor’s Commission, and a number of reports by other commissions and
committees issued since 1983, have recommended that such cases should be heard by our intermediate appeals court, not by our highest court.
Both of our courts are among the busiest in the nation. But unlike the Supreme Court, which sits as a full court with all seven justices participating in, and deciding, every case, the Court of Appeals sits in panels of three. With your approval last year of three new Court of Appeals judges, that court will now have five panels, so it will have the capacity to consider five times as many cases as the Supreme Court.
Modernization of the Supreme Court makes sense. In a 19th century court system, when
most of the wealth was tied up in land, maybe title to land cases were the most important. Maybe they had the greatest implications for the public at large. But as we move into the 21st century, that is no longer true.
In answer to questions such as who owns a strip of land, what does a will mean, and who should prevail in a divorce settlement or an alimony dispute, most judicial systems believe that three judges are enough to provide the parties with a full and fair consideration of their appeal. It no longer makes sense to have seven – or nine – justices collectively review these types of cases.
There is no doubt these cases will be in good hands with the Court of Appeals.
Let me emphasize that all these cases the Commission recommended shifting to the Court of Appeals are critically important to the parties involved.
Let me also emphasize that the purpose of this historic change is not to lessen the burden on the Supreme Court. Rather, the intent is to free up the state’s highest court to devote more time and energy to the most complex and the most difficult cases that have the greatest implications for the law and society at large.
We will therefore retain jurisdiction of constitutional challenges to the laws you enact, questions from the federal courts seeking authoritative rulings on Georgia law, election contests, murder and death penalty cases, and cases in which the Court of Appeals judges are equally divided.
Significantly, we want to be able to accept more of what we call “certiorari” cases
which are appeals of decisions by the Court of Appeals. The number of petitions filed in this category during the first quarter of the new docket year is nearly 14 percent higher this year over last. Yet due to the amount of appeals the law now requires us to take, we have had to reject the majority of the petitions for certiorari that we receive.
These cases are often the most complex – and the most consequential. They involve
issues of great importance to the legal system and the State as a whole. Or they involve an area of law that has become inconsistent and needs clarification.
Businesses and citizens need to know what the law allows them to do and what it does
not allow them to do. It is our job at the highest court to reduce any uncertainty and bring consistency and clarity to the law.
Under the Commission’s recommendations, our 21st century Georgia Supreme Court will
be able to accept more of these important appeals.


As we move into the 21st century, plans are being discussed to build the first state Judicial Building in Georgia’s history that will be dedicated solely to the judiciary. We are grateful for the Governor’s leadership on this. The building that now houses the state’s highest court and the Court of Appeals was built in 1954 when Herman Tallmadge was governor. Back then, it made sense to combine the state judicial branch with part of the executive branch, by locating the Law Department in the same building.
But the world has changed since 1954, and the building we now occupy was not designed with visitors in mind. It was not designed with technology in mind. And it surely was not designed with security in mind. Indeed, it was designed to interconnect with neighboring buildings that housed other branches of government.
A proper Judicial Building is about more than bricks and mortar. Outside, this building will symbolize for generations to come the place where people will go to get final resolution of civil wrongs and injustices; where the government will go to safeguard its prosecution of criminals; and where defendants will go to appeal convictions and sentences to prison for life.
Inside such a building, the courtroom will reinforce the reality that what goes on here is serious and solemn; it is a place of great purpose, in the words of a federal judge. The parties and the lawyers will understand they are all on equal footing, because they are equal under the law.
There is a majesty about the law that gets played out in the courtroom. It is a hallowed place because it is where the truth must be told and where justice is born. The courtroom represents our democracy at its very best.
No, this building is not just about bricks and mortar. Rather it is a place that will house Georgia’s highest court where fairness, impartiality, and justice will reign for future generations.


We are no longer living in a 1950s Georgia. The courts of the 21st century must be
equipped to handle an increasingly diverse population. Living today in metropolitan Atlanta alone are more than 700,000 people who were born outside the United States. According to the Chamber of Commerce, today some 70 countries have a presence in Atlanta, in the form of a consulate or trade office. We must be ready to help resolve the disputes of international businesses that are increasingly locating in our state and capital. Our 21st century courts must be open, transparent and accessible to all. Our citizens’ confidence in their judicial system depends on it. We must be armed with qualified, certified interpreters, promote arbitration as an alternative to costly, courtroom-bound litigation, ensure that all those who cannot afford lawyers have an avenue toward justice, and be constantly updating technology with the aim of improving our courts’ efficiency while saving literally millions of dollars. For all of this, we need your help.


When I first became a judge, we had no email, no cell phones, no Internet. People didn’t Twitter or text, or post things on YouTube, Facebook or Instagram. The most modern equipment we had was a mimeograph machine.
This past year, by Supreme Court order, we created for the first time a governance
structure to bring our use of technology into the 21st century. Chaired by my colleague Justice Harold Melton, and co-chaired by Douglas County Superior Court Judge David Emerson, this permanent Judicial Council Standing Committee on Technology will lead the judicial branch by providing guidance and oversight of its technology initiatives.
Our courts on their own are rapidly moving away from paper documents into the digital age. At the Supreme Court, lawyers must now electronically file all cases. This past year, we successfully launched the next phase by working with trial courts to begin transmitting their entire court record to us electronically. The Court of Appeals also now requires the e-filing of applications to appeal, and this year, will join the Supreme Court in accepting electronic trial records.

Our goal is to develop a uniform statewide electronic filing and retrieval system so that lawyers and others throughout the judiciary can file and access data the easiest way possible.
Using a single portal, attorneys will be able to file documents with trial courts and appellate courts – and retrieve them from any court in the state. This is the system advocated by our partner, President Bob Kaufman of the State Bar of Georgia, and by attorneys throughout the state.
Such a system will not only make our courts more efficient at huge savings, but it will make Georgia safer. When our trial judges conduct bond hearings, for example, they often lack critical information about the person before them. They usually have reports about any former convictions, but they may not have information about cases pending against the defendant in other courts. The technology exists now to ensure that they do.
Also on the horizon is the expanded use of videoconferencing – another electronic
improvement that will save money and protect citizens’ lives. After a conviction and sentence to prison, post-trial hearings require courts to send security teams to pick up the prisoner and bring him to court. Without encroaching on the constitutional right of confrontation, we could videoconference the inmate’s testimony from his prison cell. Again, the technology already exists.
Our Committee on Technology will be at the forefront of guiding our courts into the 21st century.


As Georgia grows, it grows more diverse.
Our Georgia courts are required by the federal government to provide language services free of charge to litigants and witnesses, not only in criminal cases but in civil cases as well.
Even for fluent English speakers, the judicial system can be confusing and unwelcoming.
My vision for Georgia’s judiciary in the 21st century is that every court, in every city and every county in Georgia, will have the capacity of serving all litigants, speaking any language, regardless of national origin, from the moment they enter the courthouse until the moment they leave. That means that on court websites, signs and forms will be available in multiple languages, that all court staff will have the tools they need to assist any customers, and that court proceedings will have instant access to the interpreters of the languages they need.
Chief Magistrate Kristina Blum of the Gwinnett County Magistrate Court has been
working hard to ensure access to justice for all those who come to her court, most of whom are representing themselves.
Recently her court created brochures that provide guidance for civil trials, family
violence matters, warrant applications, garnishments, and landlord-tenant disputes. These brochures provide basic information about each proceeding – what to expect and how best to present their case in court.
Judge Blum, who is in line to be president of the Council of Magistrate Judges and is a member of our Judicial Council, has had the brochures translated into Spanish, Korean and Vietnamese. Such non-legalese forms and tutorial videos that our citizens can understand go a long way toward building trust in the judicial system, and in our entire government.
The Supreme Court Commission on Interpreters, chaired by Justice Keith Blackwell, is
making significant strides in ensuring that our courts uphold the standards of due process. With the help of Commission member Jana Edmondson-Cooper, an energetic attorney with the Georgia Legal Services Program, the Commission is working around the state to educate judges,court administrators and lawyers on the judiciary’s responsibilities in providing language assistance.
The essence of due process is the opportunity to be heard. Our justice system is the envy of other countries because it is open and fair to everyone seeking justice. By helping those who have not yet mastered English, we reinforce the message that the doors to the best justice system in the world are open to everyone.
Our law demands it. Our Constitution demands it.


The courts of the 21st century will symbolize a new era. A turning point in our history occurred when we realized there was a smarter way to handle criminals.
Six years ago, my colleague and then Chief Justice Carol Hunstein accompanied
Representative Wendell Willard to Alabama to explore how that state was reforming its criminal justice system. Back in Georgia, Governor Deal seized the reins, brought together the three branches of government, and through extraordinary leadership, has made criminal justice reform a reality. Georgia is now a model for the nation.
Today, following an explosive growth in our prison population that doubled between
1990 and 2011 and caused corrections costs to top one billion dollars a year, last year our prison population was the lowest it has been in 10 years. Our recidivism rate is the lowest it’s been in three decades. And we have turned back the tide of rising costs.
For the last five years, the Georgia Council on Criminal Justice Reform – created by the governor and your legislation – has been busy transforming our criminal justice system into one that does a better job of protecting public safety while holding non-violent offenders accountable and saving millions in taxpayer dollars. I am extremely grateful to this Council and commend the steady leadership of co-chairs Judge Michael Boggs of the Court of Appeals and Thomas Worthy of the State Bar of Georgia.
Throughout this historic reform, Georgia’s trial court judges have been in the trenches.
Our number one goal in criminal justice reform is to better protect the safety of our citizens.
Central to that goal is the development of our specialty courts – what some call accountability courts.
These courts have a proven track record of reducing recidivism rates and keeping our
citizens safe. Nationwide, 75 percent of drug court graduates remain free of arrest two years after completing the program, and the most conservative analyses show that drug courts reduce crime as much as 45 percent more than other sentencing options. Last year, these courts helped save Georgia more than $51 million in prison costs.
From the beginning, you in the legislature have steadfastly supported the growth in these courts, most recently appropriating more than $19 million for the current fiscal year.
Georgia now has 131 of these courts, which include drug courts, DUI courts, juvenile and adult mental health courts, and veterans courts. Today, only two judicial circuits in the state do not yet have a specialty court, and both are in the early stages of discussing the possibility of starting one. In addition to those already involved, last year alone, we added nearly 3500 new participants to these courts.
Behind that number are individual tales of lives changed and in some cases, lives saved.
Our judges, who see so much failure, take pride in these success stories. And so should you.

Chief Judge Richard Slaby of the Richmond County State Court, speaks with great pride of Judge David Watkins and the specialty courts that have grown under Judge Watkins’ direction. Today the recidivism rate among the Augusta participants is less than 10 percent.
The judges who run these courts are committed and deserve our thanks. We are grateful to leaders like Judge Slaby, who is President-Elect of the Council of State Court Judges and a member of our Judicial Council; to Judge Stephen Goss of the Dougherty Superior Court, whose mental health court has been recognized as one of the best mental health courts in our country; to Chief Judge Brenda Weaver, President of the Council of Superior Court Judges and a member of our Judicial Council. Judge Weaver of the Appalachian Judicial Circuit serves on the Council of
Accountability Court Judges of Georgia, which you created last year by statute. Its purpose is to improve the quality of our specialty courts through proven standards and practices, and it is chaired by Superior Court Judge Jason Deal of Hall County. Judge Deal’s dedication to the specialty court model in his community, and his guidance and encouragement to programs throughout the state, are described as invaluable by those who work with him.


We may not have a unified court system in Georgia. But we have judges unified in their commitment to our courts. Among our one thousand four hundred and fifty judges, Georgia has many fine leaders. I’ve told you about a number of them today. In closing, I want to mention two more.
When the United States Supreme Court issued its historic decision last year on same-sex marriage, our Council of Probate Court Judges led the way toward compliance. Three months before the ruling was issued, the judges met privately at the behest of the Council’s then president, Judge Chase Daughtrey of Cook County, and his successor, Judge Don Wilkes of Emanuel County. Together, they determined that regardless of what the Supreme Court decided, they would follow the law. Both Governor Deal and Attorney General Sam Olens also publicly announced they would respect the court’s decision, despite tremendous pressure to do otherwise.
These men are all great leaders who spared our state the turmoil other states endured. The bottom line is this: In Georgia, we may like the law, we may not like the law, but we follow the law.


The day-to-day business of the Georgia courts rarely makes the news. Rather judges,
their staff and clerks spend their days devoted to understanding the law, tediously pushing cases through to resolution, committed to ferreting out the truth and making the right decision. It is not easy, and they must often stand alone, knowing that when they sentence someone to prison, many lives hang in the balance between justice and mercy.
So I thank all of our leaders, and I thank all of our judges who are leading our courts into the 21st century.
May God bless them. May God bless you. And may God bless all the people of Georgia.
Thank you.

“Four judicial appointments are being denied Gov. Nathan Deal”. “over a period of decades, it has become customary throughout Georgia for a judge to resign mid-way through the final elected term, which allows the governor to install an incumbent of his choice in time for the next nonpartisan election. Which usually discourages all challengers. Bestowing these prizes has become one of the great perks of the governor’s office.”


(Judge Irma Glover speaks to the audience during a criminal arraignment at Cobb County State Court in Marietta in 2013. Her retirement was announced on Tuesday. Hyosub Shin, hshin@ajc.com)
Greg Bluestein
@bluestein
Daniel Malloy
@ajconwashington
Jim Galloway
@politicalinsidr
http://politics.blog.ajc.com/2016/01/06/cobb-county-judges-deny-gov-nathan-deal-four-bench-appointments/

Cobb County judges deny Gov. Nathan Deal four bench appointments
January 6, 2016 | Filed in: Cobb County, Elections – President, Georgia Legislature, Jimmy Carter, John Lewis, Nathan Deal.

Judge Irma Glover speaks to the audience during a criminal arraignment at Cobb County State Court in Marietta in 2013. Her retirement was announced on Tuesday. Hyosub Shin, hshin@ajc.com

Judge Irma Glover speaks to the audience during a criminal arraignment at Cobb County State Court in Marietta in 2013. Her retirement was announced on Tuesday. Hyosub Shin, hshin@ajc.com

We told you earlier this morning that Allison Barnes Salter, daughter of former Gov. Roy Barnes and a managing partner in the Barnes Law Group, will run for an open seat on the Cobb County State Court bench.

But that is only part of the story.

(Allison Salter Barnes, who announced her candidacy for a state court judgeship on Tuesday).

Allison Salter Barnes, who announced her candidacy for a state court judgeship on Tuesday.

A total of four judges in Cobb County – all women, one on the superior court bench and three on the state court bench – have announced that they will not be running for re-election when their terms expire this year.

Which means that four judicial appointments are being denied Gov. Nathan Deal.

This is actually how the system is supposed to work. But over a period of decades, it has become customary throughout Georgia for a judge to resign mid-way through the final elected term, which allows the governor to install an incumbent of his choice in time for the next nonpartisan election. Which usually discourages all challengers. Bestowing these prizes has become one of the great perks of the governor’s office.

One can’t rule out the possibility that these departing judges hold a fervent belief in the power of voters. Superior Court Judge Adele Grubbs, who is retiring at age 72, won her seat on the bench in a 2000 election. State Court Judge Melanie Clayton first won her seat in an open-field election in 1992.

But we also may be seeing something of a Democratic hangover here. Kathryn Tanksley, another departing state court judge, was appointed as one of the last acts of Governor Barnes before he left office in 2002. And State Court Judge Irma Glover, whose retirement was announced Tuesday in the Daily Report, was a 1995 appointee of Gov. Zell Miller.

Cynthia J Becker, Longtime Member of the Black Robed Mafia, Shown in Article by TinaTrent.com, http://crimevictimsmediareport.com/?p=1

Becker’s excuse for her failings that caused the death of a special cancer research specialist, was that she liked the wedding dress website that the felon had told her was his website. How that woman’s family must have felt, and had to deal with her death.

TinaTrent.com ●

February 21, 2009 2:40 pm

The Anatomy of Yet Another Unnecessary Murder: How the Justice System Failed Eugenia Calle and Is Failing Us All

by Tina in Atlanta,Citizens Fight Back,Crime and Justice Blog,Judges,Recidivism

Introduction

What follows is a preliminary effort to piece together Shamal (aka Jamal) Thompson’s long and troubling journey through Georgia’s broken criminal justice system prior to February 17, 2009, the day he murdered* an innocent cancer researcher named Eugenia Calle. Ten months earlier, a DeKalb County Superior Court Judge named Cynthia J. Becker let Thompson walk free from what should have been a ten-year sentence for burglary. She did so on the grounds that he was a first-time offender.

He was not.

I gathered the records of Thompson’s many other criminal charges and pleas merely through Internet searches and a few phone calls to court clerks in Fulton, DeKalb and Gwinnett Counties in Georgia. These counties and jurisdictions vary quite significantly in their commitment to making public safety information available to the public. Fulton County’s public records system is almost uniquely shameful in comparison to similar courts throughout the country, while DeKalb County’s records are impressively detailed and easy to access on-line.

This information is preliminary, based only on a few phone calls and web searches. If you choose to reproduce or quote this article, please understand that I am unable to guarantee its absolute accuracy at this point. Court records themselves often contain errors, and I can only reproduce what is entered on-line by the courts. However, I include the public records case numbers for every case I cite, and if anyone involved in the justice system (or not) wishes to offer corrections or add to this account, please contact me through this website.

Why Didn’t Judge Cynthia Becker Do What I Did?

I am not a lawyer. I don’t even live in Georgia anymore, though I lived in southeast Atlanta for twenty years. Yet I managed to look up Shamal Thompson’s criminal history while sitting at a computer in Florida. From 500 miles away, with no press credentials or official status or legal secretary or law clerk, I was able to easily discover what several judges in Georgia apparently did not care enough to find out: Shamal Thompson was no “first-time offender,” or mere “troubled kid” when he strolled into courtrooms throughout Metro Atlanta and was repeatedly given a slap on the wrist and a fourth, or tenth, second chance. He was no first-time offender when he strolled into Eugenia Calle’s condominium and beat her to death on Tuesday.

He was clearly no first-time offender in 2006, when he walked away from felony charges of aggravated assault in DeKalb County after the ADA declined to present the case against him to the Grand Jury (DeKalb County on-line Judicial System, #D0170113). He was no first-time offender in 2007, when State Court of Fulton County Judge John Mather let him take a plea on theft-by-taking (State Court of Fulton County #06CR314782). And he was certainly no first-time offender ten months ago, when DeKalb County Superior Court Judge Cynthia J. Becker let him walk out of prison with time served on a ten-year sentence for Burglary that she chose to reduce to a six-month “first offender” sentence, and then reduced, even more, to time served (DeKalb County On-Line Judicial System #07CR3936).

How does ten years become six months become time served? How does somebody who has bonded out of several courts and been charged with multiple crimes multiple times keep getting defined as a “first-time offender?” Why do judges keep releasing him, and DAs keep declining to prosecute him? How many innocent people have to die before we acknowledge that our courts are so de-funded and functionally broken that predators have little or nothing to fear from being arrested over and over and over again?

How many people have to die before we say that we’ve had enough?

Here is the burglary sentence delivered to Shamal Jerome Thompson on April 3, 2008 in a courtroom in DeKalb County, Georgia. Think of it as Eugenia Calle’s death sentence:

Docket Text Details

Case ID 07CR3936
Description Sentence
Docket Filing Date 03-APR-2008
Associated Party SHAMAL JEROME THOMPSON
Text
AS TO THOMPSON, FIRST OFFENDER SENTENCE, 10 YEARS TO SERVE 6 MONTHS IN JAIL AS TO COUNT 1. CREDIT FOR TIME SERVED FROM 9/30/2006 – 10/4/2006 AND FROM 2/11/2008 TO PRESENT, TIME TO SERVE REDUCED TO TIME SERVED. MUST PAY $32/M PROBATION FEE AND $50 INDIGENT DEFENSE FEE, RESTITUTION IN THE AMOUNT OF $350, RESTITUTION NEEDS TO BE PAID WITHIN 12 MONTHS, IF PROBATION IS DONE CORRECTLY AND RESTITUTION IS PAID CASE MAY CLOSE AFTER 5 YEARS. SIGNED BY JUDGE BECKER ON 4/3/2008
Why did Judge Becker give Thompson First Offender status? His adult record stretches back virtually to the day he ceased being a juvenile, which certainly suggests that he committed crimes that we, the public, cannot even know about before he turned 18. And why, once again, was I able to find these things on-line, hundreds of miles away, while the courts in Atlanta kept letting Shamal Thompson back onto the streets?

WSB Atlanta offers some truly gut-wrenching insight into what Judge Becker was using her Internet for when she should have been looking into Thompson’s criminal history before sentencing him on those burglary charges. She was looking at the bridal gown website Thompson claimed to have designed. According to WSB (and WSB was the only news station that reported this), “Judge Becker cited the Web site and the ‘beautiful designs’ on the site as part of the reason for the light sentence she gave Thompson in the burglary case.”

Let’s take a moment to let that sink in.

Perhaps because I wasn’t busy looking at bridal gowns, what I found on-line about Shamal Thompson had less to do with taffeta than serial identity theft. And fraud. Little clues that should have led the Judge to ask herself: “Is this guy even telling me the truth when he tells me he’s a bridal fashion designer?” Cynthia Becker needs to resign, out of embarrassment if not some deeper comprehension of the grotesquely ironic lack of judgment she displayed.

Am I the only person who thinks Cynthia Becker needs to quit her day job? Well, here’s a good way for you to decide. Because DeKalb County keeps such stellar on-line records, you can actually go to their website, the Online Judicial System of DeKalb County.

Go to Shamal Thompson’s case, #07CR3936, and you will see a list of documents – a case docket. Some of the documents are on-line, and some, like the court transcripts, aren’t on-line, but you can go to the court and request to see those. Or pick some other offender – someone who has been terrorizing your neighborhood, or someone who has been in and out of the courts, or another of Becker’s cases. Take a look at the dockets and think about all of the money we’re wasting on truly baroque and foolish things, while the crimes themselves – the point of the courts – seem to literally disappear in the endless processing and pleading and not prosecuting, or “nolle prosequi.”

Nolle prosequi can occur because nobody had the resources to even investigate the case, or because there are too many defendants, or too many crimes, or because the public has become so gob-smacked with the idea that they are freeing innocent men that it is practically impossible to get most people put away anymore. Nolle prosequi might as well be translated: we’re losing this game every day.

And don’t expect critical news about the broken court system from the daily paper. They run personality pieces on criminals and mash notes about defense attorneys and never, ever, challenge judges. The AJC hasn’t done a substantive series questioning sentencing in the courts since 1993. They’ll go after the police, and some of the time when they do they should, but the courts get treated with real kid gloves.

So I encourage you to go to the courthouse and see how things work. But please remember, court clerks are busy people. The good ones rank among the un-noticed heroes of our dysfunctional courts. They don’t get the cushy no-show jobs like Juanita Hicks, former Fulton County Clerk of Court, who appointed her crony, Cathelene Robinson, who then turned around and paid Juanita to “write a history of the Clerk’s Office,” which Hicks of course, didn’t get around to writing.

But she did take the money, which is just one reason why Fulton County says it can’t afford to put criminal records on-line, so you can’t go on-line and find information about the dirt-bag who just kicked in your back door.

Just remember that when you’re standing in the hallway of the courthouse with a paper in your hand on which Judge Cynthia Becker prattles on about Shamal Thompson’s design skills: it wasn’t the clerk behind the counter who let Thompson walk out the door you’re about to walk out through. The clerk behind the counter probably would have thrown him in prison, where he belonged.

Who is Shamal Thompson?

I know nothing of Thompson’s life story. For that type of “color coverage,” you’ll have to wait for the AJC to run long, plaintive stories about his difficult youth. Meanwhile, here is what I was able to find out about Shamal Thompson’s crimes and history, so far:

Thompson was born either on 3/11/86 or 11/3/86, and he may well have used different birthdates, as well as different names, to avoid detection of his other crimes. Of course, with technology like the In-ter-net, and fingerprint databases, such simple ploys should not have worked at all. Did they? Interesting question.

On May 18, 2005, a warrant was issued for Thompson in Gwinnett County on the charge of theft by receiving stolen property (#05W-17152). It would be two years before the courts addressed these charges. He also apparently committed an act of theft on December 9, 2005 (#06CR314782). The information I received was confusing, but the State Court of Fulton County wouldn’t address those charges, either, until 2007.

Meanwhile, on September 28, 2005, Thompson was arrested in DeKalb County. He was released on October 5. Charges included felony aggravated assault, fleeing/attempt to elude, and reckless driving. Eight months later, on July 25, 2006, an Assistant District Attorney declined to present the case to a Grand Jury in DeKalb, and Thompson walked (#D0170113, or use the name Shamal Thompson, and be sure to hit the “all” button on the “case status” prompt).

Why did the ADA decline to go forward with the case? Why didn’t the jurisdictions of Gwinnett and DeKalb communicate with each other and deliver Thompson to Gwinnett to face his outstanding warrant there?

In any case, on August 26, 2006 (note, we’re up to 2006 now – the dates get confusing: there’s so many of them), Thompson committed a felony burglary in DeKalb County. He was arrested and spent five days in jail – from September 30 to October 4, 2006. This case wouldn’t reappear until 2008, in Judge Becker’s court.

About ten weeks later, December 5, 2006, Thompson was in trouble again, this time in the State Court of Fulton County. I have little information on this case, and the on-line database from the State Court of Fulton County is ridiculously unusable. The charge was forgery-in-the-first-degree; Thompson was the second defendant in the case, and it is “still open,” according to a helpful clerk on the phone. The case number is #06CP5770.

Next, on or around December 18, 2006, Thompson was either charged with theft-of-services and identity fraud or appeared in court on those charges. Again, the information I have is confusing, but the clerk told me that the case is still open; the “last court date scheduled for it was January 2, 2007; and that the Fulton DA “hasn’t scheduled another court date.” The case number is #06CP60870.

All of this could be made clear to us on-line, of course, if there were any functioning leadership at the Clerk of Court during the expensive and ruinous years of Juanita Hicks and Cathelene Robinson.

The next day, December 19, 2006, Thompson had 11 counts of identity fraud “dismissed at jail.” Whatever that means. It could be that some overworked cop didn’t show up, or didn’t show up the sixth time, after Thompson’s defense attorney managed to spin the date a half-dozen times before. It could mean some paperwork disappeared. Or was disappeared. It could be that the overworked DA’s office couldn’t cope, that the case seemed insignificant compared to the thousands of others they were investigating and preparing. In any case, in case #06CP60926, Thompson walked out the door. Free again.

For forty days, at least. On January 30, 2007, the State Court of Fulton County got around to addressing Thompson’s 12/9/2005 theft charge. Judge John Mather accepted a plea, and Thompson walked. The case number is #06CR314782.

It would be great if somebody in Atlanta would go to the State Court of Fulton County and take a look at Judge Mather’s sentence and any other materials related to the case. For if Thompson accepted a plea, why is it that Judge Becker gave him a first-time offender’s break, and Judge Michael Clark (we’ll get to him next) simply dropped charges against him and let him walk?

Onward and upward. On April 23, 2007, Judge Michael Clark of the Gwinnett Superior Court cut Thompson a deal: in exchange for Thompson pleading guilty to theft by receiving, Clark dropped another charge of theft by taking and gave him five years probation — as a first offender. Case #06-B-02474-4, Gwinnett Courts.

Questions arise. If Thompson pleaded guilty on January 30, 2007, why did he get to plead guilty, again, as a first offender, some seven weeks later? For that matter, had Judge Mather give him a first-offender deal, too, those seven weeks prior to his second first-offender plea, despite his juvenile record, if it exists, and all the other confirmed charges floating around? The head swims. But, then again, I’m sitting here in Florida, getting paid nothing to watch the dolphins cavort, dreaming of crime victims.

I’m not some judge in her chambers in DeKalb County getting paid to enforce the law. Dreaming of wedding gowns.

Some time around February 11, 2008, Shamal Thompson was back in jail again in DeKalb County, where he stayed until April 3, when he convinced Judge Cynthia J. Becker that his bridal gown web design skills entitled him to a third first-offender sentence, a further reduction in that sentence, and immediate release with time served, justice be damned.

And 319 days later it was, wasn’t it?

What Will Happen Now?

What will happen now is that Shamal Thompson has just bought himself (on our tab) a very expensive and high-profile defense team who will use our money to accuse us as a society of failing this talented /troubled/ mentally unstable/ promising/ neglected/ sensitive/ misunderstood young man while using every trick they’ve embedded in the criminal justice system to try to get him off again as they grandstand to enhance their public personas while lining their pockets and wailing that they do all this in order to defend justice from its enemies.

Lapdogs in the daily press will breathlessly report this.

Eugenia Calle’s family and loved ones will bury her body and remember all the good she did while she was alive.

Her colleagues will go back to trying to cure cancer.

Who Was That Who Saw it Coming?

In 2005, a writer named Coley Ward published a startling article in Atlanta’s Creative Loafing. Called “Case Dismissed: Accused Felons Often Are Released When Officers Fail to Testify,” Ward interviewed Fulton County Magistrate Judge Richard Hicks, who complained that more than half of the felony cases scheduled in his courtroom had to be dismissed, usually when police officers didn’t show up to testify. The police argued back that they didn’t always receive subpoenas in time, or that they were on duty elsewhere or off the clock – working for free. DA Paul Howard (whose own staff is stretched beyond human means) argued that most of those felons eventually got re-arrested for something else and thus indicted, an argument Judge Hicks called statistically untrue. Even if it were true, Coley Ward points out, what type of system lets out half its felons, or more, on the grounds that they’ll be back again soon?

Everybody agreed on one thing, though: the justice system is so broken that the chance of a felon even getting indicted once he has been caught, if he is caught, is so small in Fulton County that it hardly seems worth worrying about.

Now picture Shamal Thompson boldly strolling through Dr. Eugenia Calle’s condominium lobby, trying to get back into her apartment, where he knew her body lay, after killing her and going on a cold-blooded shopping spree with her credit card. No consequences. No fear.

We should have all seen it coming. Thompson appears before Judge Richard Hicks on March 3, four years after Hicks pulled the fire alarm on his own courthouse.

And the Mayor and the Chief of Police continue to say that there’s no problem, that it’s all in people’s heads, that crime is down.

I once had a defense attorney say: “Geez, you take this stuff so personally.” Well, I’m a victim of violent crime, and so is my husband and many, many of my friends in Atlanta. I matriculated from Emory University’s Graduate School, and as a public health worker and lobbyist, I occasionally worked with the epidemiologists, including those involved in seeking the links between hormones and cancer that defined Eugenie Calle’s research (I never met her). My dear friend, Toni, lost her life to cancer two years ago. Another dear friend and mentor, Vicki, has been fighting breast cancer for years. I lost a beloved male friend suddenly to cancer last year. And since Christmas, my mother has been waging a valiant fight against late-stage lung and brain cancer.

So, yeah. As someone who prays daily for those gone to cancer and those fighting it now, I take the loss of a brilliant and dedicated cancer researcher personally. God rest.

As a crime victim, I take crime personally.

As an Emory alum, I take their community’s safety personally, and I would expect all members of the campus, even those faculty of the offender-besotted-ilk, to take the murder of a member of their community seriously.

As a woman, I take the vulnerability of women personally. As a former Atlantan who worked hard to make the city a safer place for women and children, I take crime in Atlanta seriously.

It’s up to us – black and white, neighbor by neighbor by neighbor, to come together to demand that criminals be removed from the streets. Permanently. The only way to break the cycle of violence — to save the younger brothers and sisters of all the Shamal Thompsons out there, is to change what the courts have been doing for the last thirty years.

Stop letting the predators out. All of them.

Start prosecuting crimes. All of them.

Start telling us the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about what is happening in our courts. They are the problem. And that is what this blog will be about.

I am so, so sorry for Eugenia Calle and for the people who loved her.

Tomorrow: What citizens in Atlanta are doing to fight crime and monitor the courts.

*Of course, Thompson has not yet been convicted of the crime.

Judge Brian House Up For Re-Election?

It don’t get much more obvious that the corruption in Ringgold Georgia.  The judges there violate their ethics and the Cannons in blatant style.  Check the link to the news on Brian House.  He lied three times during the interview!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VLZla0lf1pI

Fukushima Cs-137 Found in Beef, Milk, Vegetation, Beginning in 2011 Through now

Fukushima nuclear material reported in West Coast groundwater; It’s discharging into Pacific Ocean — Fallout also found in meat and fish from same area — “Routinely detected’ in plant life long after March 2011

 
Published: September 4th, 2014 at 11:02 am ET
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Diablo Canyon Power Plant (DCPP) Units 1 and 2 Annual Radiological Environmental Operating Report, published April 30, 2014: Isotopic releases occurred in Japan and were carried by the jet stream to the west coast of the United States… [DCPP] periodically detected cesium (Cs-137) within market fish and cow meat due to deposition of Cs-137 from [Fukushima]… Fukushima Cs-137 was detected within one sample of monitoring well… Cs-137 was detected in three samples of market fish most likely due to rainwater washout of Fukushima Cs-137… Cs-137 was detected in [a] 2013 meat samples due to the Fukushima Japan nuclear accidents. This detection occurred… in October… [DCPP] detected cesium within milk, vegetation, and meat throughout 2011 [and] continued to detect cesium within groundwater, fish, vegetation, and meat throughout 2012.

Diablo Canyon Power Plant Units 1 and 2 Annual Radiological Environmental Operating Report, Apr. 30, 2013: Throughout 2012 [we] continued to detect cesium (Cs-137) within milk, vegetation, monitoring wells, fish, and meat due to deposition of Cs-137 from that event… Concentrations of cesium (Cs-137) were also detected in two shallow monitoring wells… This cesium was evaluated and attributed to rain-washout of Fukushima fallout… Due to topography and site characteristics, this groundwater gradient flow discharged into the Pacific Ocean… Cs-137 was detected in three samples of fish most likely due to rainwater washout of Fukushima Cs-137… Cs-137 was detected in 2012 vegetation samples… due to rainwater washout of Fukushima Cs-137 [that] was absorbed by plant life and the soil. DCPP… has routinely detected Cs-137 in plant life since March of 2011 due to this Fukushima event… Cs-137 was detected in… [cow] meat samples due to the Fukushima Japan nuclear accidents… Vegetation uptake and subsequent digestion by the animals were the source of these Cs-137 isotopes into the meat.

See also: California Nuclear Plant Engineer: We were hit by explosion at Fukushima Unit 3 (MAP) — “The public started to freak out” — Tell colleagues what radioactive material is coming their way… don’t notify public — Don’t release initial data to officials until they’re ‘on board’

City of Springfield Banned all Foreclosures! How Will The Supreme Court Rule On That?

 

BOSTON – A group of Western Massachusetts banks argued before the state’s highest court on Thursday that the city of Springfield’s anti-foreclosure ordinances should be overturned.

The banks say the local ordinances contradict state laws, and a bond levied on lenders constitutes an illegal tax. “It’s not that banks are opposed to mortgage laws and reform, but to how it’s being done,” said Craig Kaylor, general counsel for Hampden Bank, one of the banks that brought the lawsuit. “These are for the state to decide, not city by city.”

But the city disagrees and says the laws are necessary to avoid blight and protect neighborhoods that have high rates of foreclosure.

“This is the city’s response to the foreclosure crisis,” said Springfield Assistant City Solicitor Thomas Moore, who argued the case before the Supreme Judicial Court. “It’s a response from the city council and mayor based on what they see every day in the city. They’ve taken the strongest stance to protect homeowners and the city itself.”

The city of Springfield passed two anti-foreclosure ordinances in 2011 as the city was being hit hard by the mortgage foreclosure crisis. One ordinance requires a bank that forecloses on a home to pay for a $10,000 bond, which can be used by the city to maintain the foreclosed properties, if the bank fails to do so.

The other ordinance requires the establishment of a mandatory mediation program to help homeowners facing foreclosure. The bank would be responsible for paying most of the cost of the mediation.

Springfield is among the top cities in the state in the number of distressed properties it has. The city says high rates of foreclosures lead to health and education problems for children in families that lose their homes, and high rates of blighted or vacant properties lead to crime and violence in those neighborhoods.

Six western Massachusetts banks, with Easthampton Savings Bank as the lead plaintiff, challenged the ordinances. A U.S. District court judge upheld the ordinances. However, on appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals issued a stay preventing Springfield from enforcing them. The federal court then asked the Supreme Judicial Court, the state’s highest court, to answer two questions related to state law before the federal court makes its ruling. The case is Easthampton Savings Bank and others vs. City of Springfield.

The SJC must decide whether the local foreclosure ordinances are preempted by existing state foreclosure laws. The court must also decide whether the $10,000 bond is a legal fee or an illegal tax. Cities and towns cannot create taxes without legislative approval.

The banks also argue that the ordinances violate the contract clause of the U.S. Constitution by impairing the contract between the homeowner and the mortgage-holder, a question that remains before the federal court.

During Thursday’s arguments, Tani Sapirstein, an attorney representing the banks, argued that the bond is a tax because banks do not get any particular benefit from paying it – which is the criteria for calling something a fee. The way the bond works is when a foreclosed property is sold, if the city did not have to use the bond money to maintain it, $9,500 would be returned to the bank and $500 is kept by the city as an administrative fee, used to maintain blighted properties and implement the foreclosure laws.

Chief Justice Ralph Gants questioned Sapirstein on whether the bank does not actually receive benefits. “You have an interest in preserving the value of your property,” Gants said. “If there are foreclosed properties going to hell all around your property, it diminishes the value of your property and diminishes the value of what you receive on the foreclosure. Why is this concern about avoiding blight not something that would benefit the bank as well as the city?”

Sapirstein replied that eliminating blight would benefit the bank “as well as the city and other property owners in the neighborhood.” “How is that a particularized benefit?” she said.

Moore argued that the bond is a fee, which the city needs to hire code inspectors and create a database of who controls foreclosed properties.

But Justice Geraldine Hines said if she pays for a copy of her birth certificate, she gets a document in return for the fee. “Here I don’t see that,” she said. “The property owners, the mortgagees, don’t have something tangible.”

Moore said the banks get a “well-regulated industry” and preservation of their property values. In addition, when a bank registers ownership in the database, the city knows who is responsible and problems can be resolved more easily.

Sapirstein also argued that local law cannot require more than state law in an area that is regulated by the state or the result would be “a patchwork of ordinances.”

Gants indicated that the court may move to narrow the ordinances – for example, applying them only to a bank that has taken possession of a house, not a bank that is in the process of foreclosure when the homeowner is still living there. Gants said the ordinance as written could fine a bank for not maintaining a property where the homeowner still lives. As a homeowner, Gants said, “I’d say I’m still living here. This is my home. How can they be punished for not invading what’s still my home just because they happen to be foreclosing on it?” Gants said.

Moore acknowledged that the ordinance may be overbroad and said the city does not anticipate pursuing a violation in a case like that. Moore said the lenders’ lawsuit is premature because there is no information yet about how the city will enforce the laws. “We have the lenders essentially saying the sky will be falling, we are worried about x, y, z happening. None of that has happened and none of that may happen,” Moore said.

Moore said the city is still writing the regulations for the ordinances and if they are upheld, “The city is ready to go forward with implementation within a period of weeks.”

Similar foreclosure ordinances were established in Lynn and Worcester, and local banks challenged those as well. That lawsuit is pending in U.S. District Court in Worcester. The case involving Lynn and Worcester could be affected by the SJC’s ruling in the Springfield case.

Several activists supporting homeowners came in from Lynn and Springfield to hear the arguments. Candejah Pink, a Springfield homeowner and community organizer battled foreclosure for four years before reaching an agreement to keep her home. She helped write the Springfield ordinances. Pink said the bond is there to ensure that homes are maintained, which keeps crime and violence down. The mediation program, she said, is important to help homeowners come to an agreement with lenders. “We’re not asking to live in our homes for free. We’re asking for some mediation,” she said.