Letters from the editor: May 11, 2010
THE STATE OF JUSTICE IN FAYETTE: Two judges from the same judicial circuit resign within days of each other, both because of women who are not their wives.
That’s probably unprecedented in Georgia history ... not the “not wives” part, but the near simultaneous resignations.
I called it the Thomaston Mafia, for the stranglehold that Upson County seemed to have upon the top judicial offices in the Griffin Circuit, comprising Upson, Pike, Spalding and Fayette counties.
The first trial I saw in the circuit was back in the late 1960s. Sleepy Judge McGehee was presiding over a Griffin murder case being prosecuted by part-time Solicitor-General Andrew Whalen. Within a year or so, Whalen — who lived in Spalding County, the largest in the circuit — became the sole judge and a Thomaston attorney named Ben Miller became what later would be called district attorney.
Miller became the circuit’s second superior court judge in the 1980s, beginning the ascendancy of Upson County lawyers. Johnnie Caldwell, son of the powerful state [corrected] insurance commissioner from Thomaston, became DA.
Then followed the appointment of Paschal English (Caldwell’s deputy), who incidentally promised to move from Thomaston to Fayette County, a move meant to placate the growing political power of once-tiny Fayette. He neglected to follow through on that promise.
Next to be appointed was Caldwell (why he was passed over in favor of his deputy in the late 1980s is another story and involves ye old editor).
Next, Chris Edwards of south Fayette stood on the street corners with his campaign sign and won his judgeship fair and square from the voters of the circuit without a prior gubernatorial appointment.
Then Tommy Hankinson of Thomaston was [corrected] appointed by Democrat Gov. Roy Barnes in 2003 to fill the unexpired term of Miller, who retired, and that brings us to today.
Yes, Caldwell was a legal train-wreck for the past 20 years. I’m amazed he lasted this long. I think there are few lawyers in the circuit who can truthfully swear they don’t know something that should have gotten Caldwell cashiered years ago. But, then again, there are a lot of lying lawyers, reliable informants tell me. If anything, Shakespeare was too kind.
Yes, English had to go because of multiple lapses in personal judgment that eventually compromised his judicial honor. However, I personally believe he was a reasonably fair judge.
I believe Judge Chris Edwards is the straightest of straight arrows. I believe he deserves credit for forcing the sordid affair into the spotlight.
The local judicial system has suffered a grievous public injury in recent days. There’s been a lot of willful turning away from the truth by a slew of lawyers and more than one elected official.
In my opinion, Chris Edwards is not among that discredited bunch. While he has unfairly been spattered by the mud splashed up by two unwise judges and some gutless and Monday-morning-quarterbacking anonymous lawyers, Chief Judge Edwards is likely to be a man on a mission now.
His mission will be to restore confidence in justice in the Griffin Judicial Circuit. It will not be easy or quick, but if character matters in a judge (and I believe it matters more than anything else), Chris Edwards is the right man for the job.