Law Day: ‘No courts, no justice, no freedom’
As Fayette State Court Judge, I have the privilege each day of ensuring that citizens of this county have access to the court and criminal justice system.
But I recognize that with our busy schedules, most of us do not give any thought to the court system, that is, until we receive a summons for jury service, are sued, get a traffic ticket or have some other contact with the criminal justice system.
Commemorated each year on May 1st, Law Day reminds us that courts play an integral role in protecting liberty and fundamental rights, which are memorialized in the Constitution. President Dwight D. Eisenhower instituted Law Day in the 1950s as a counter to the May Day celebrations on the same day in the Soviet Union.
As President Eisenhower explained, “In a very real sense, the world no longer has a choice between force and law. If civilization is to survive it must choose the rule of law.” Only when law prevails over force in this manner can a nation truly be free.
The theme to this year’s Law Day is “No Courts, No Justice, No Freedom.” Although justice is often associated with the courts, the concept of freedom is not.
Instead, courts are more often seen as a place where a criminal defendant’s personal freedom can be taken away. But in fact, courts ensure that each defendant retains his or her freedom to pursue life and liberty unless and until the defendant has been provided due process under the law.
In this country, each of us has a right to a trial by jury of our peers before one can be convicted of a crime. Likewise, civil litigants have a right to a jury trial to redress private grievances.
Fayette State Court conducts jury trials each month, alternating between civil and criminal calendars. Also, for those litigants who knowingly and voluntarily waive their demand for jury trial, Fayette State Court has criminal and civil bench trials.
Under our Georgia and U.S. Constitution, court proceedings are open to the public. We do not have secret trials. The courts and judges are in that sense held accountable to the public. This protects not only the rights of the individuals on trial but the rights that each one of us enjoys.
Recently, I have been speaking at each of the high schools around Fayette County about State Court and what I do as a judge. In one of those sessions, I was asked by an inquisitive high school student how I can sit in judgment of other people from a moral standpoint.
My answer was that the law is not based on what the whims of the judge are or his or her personal experience and beliefs. The law is a measure outside of the individual judge against which the judge evaluates the facts and circumstances of the case. When I was sworn into office, I promised to uphold the law.
But it is important to remember that not only are judges required to follow the law, but they also are subject to and fall under the law. No judge is above the law. Justice demands that no one is too low to avail themselves of the law, nor is anyone too lofty to be held to the law.
That is one reason why open court proceedings are so important. As State Court Judge, I invite and welcome the public to watch our trials and other court proceedings. The calendar for State Court can be found at http://www.fayettecountyga.gov/courts/state_court/calendar.htm.
[Judge Carla McMillian is the judge for the State Court of Fayette County. To learn more about her and the work of State Court, visit JudgeCarla.com.]