GEORGIA HOUSE SPEAKER DAVID RALSTON is touring the state, doing damage control. He’s been dropping in on newspapers from Savannah to Gainesville to give his side of a story that’s embroiled the Blue Ridge Republican in controversy. On Tuesday, he visited the MDJ.
In February, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and sister television station WSB reported allegations that Ralston was abusing a law that allows attorneys who also serve as state legislators to ask for continuances in their cases if they have some legislative responsibility preventing them from attending a hearing.
The story goes that Ralston, in his role as a criminal defense attorney, continually delayed his clients’ cases using the legislative leave law, essentially denying the victims their day in court and preserving his clients’ freedom.
Ralston’s stop at the MDJ offices Tuesday afternoon was the latest on his tour that included visits to newspapers and TV stations in Gainesville, Augusta, Macon, Savannah, Brunswick and Columbus. Speaker Ralston was scheduled to visit the Dalton newspaper after leaving Marietta.
He explained the intent of his tour was twofold. He said he likes going around the state to gather information and get a sense of how these communities are responding to legislation. And, he said, wants to tell his side of the legislative leave story.
“I’ve come to a realization that if you don’t tell your side of the story, nobody else will tell it,” he said.
Ralston said the reporting of his use of legislative leave was incomplete, neglecting to mention that the judges in north Georgia he practices law in front of only have small windows in which they hear criminal cases.
“The vast majority of my cases are in the Appalachian Circuit. And one of the things that has not been reported is that each of those three judges have two weeks each per year of scheduled criminal jury trials,” he said.
The House speaker said having more judges in the area could help cases move more quickly, but it costs between $400,000 and $500,000 to pay for a new judge and their staff, so local jurisdictions are reluctant to do so.
Ralston also responded to GOP organizations that have passed resolutions criticizing him or asking him to step down. The Cobb Republican Party passed such a resolution in March.
“Frankly, if I’d read some of the stuff that was described to me, I probably would’ve voted for them, too. … When I spoke to the House on Feb. 25, I think I said at least twice, maybe three times, that I’m not bitter. I’m not angry. I’m not mad at anybody. I’ve tried to grow from this experience. I’ve tried to be reminded that I can sit all day and sort of beat my head on the wall and say, ‘This is not reality. It’s not true.’ But then I have to come to grips with the fact that the perception kind of becomes the reality,” Ralston said.
While it was expected that the Georgia GOP might pass a similar resolution at its convention last weekend, Ralston said technical issues related to the rules of filing and approving resolutions prevented a vote.
Since the story broke, Ralson appointed a committee to look at the legislative leave law, and among the members was Marietta attorney Tom Cauthorn.
That committee helped draft HB 502, which imposes new reporting requirements for lawmakers requesting legislative leave. The bill was carried in the Senate by Sen. Jen Jordan, D-Atlanta, who represents Smyrna, Vinings and Cumberland.
The bill eventually passed both chambers of the Legislature nearly unanimously.
He also said he pledged to House members that he would not take on any new criminal cases until four of the cases mentioned in the stories were resolved. As of Tuesday, Ralston said, one case resulted in a guilty plea, one was dismissed, one goes to trial in July and one he has withdrawn from.
Ralston acknowledged he has a busy schedule, but declined to advocate for the speakership becoming a full-time job.
“No, I don’t think so because I think that would begin to take us down the road to having a full-time Legislature. I think it would be really unhealthy for us to get away from being a part-time, citizen Legislature. ... And frankly, I think as busy as I am, and I do plead guilty to being busy, I think I’m a better speaker because I go out and I see real people every day, when I’m in my law office and around the courthouses, and I think that’s a good thing,” he said.
Accompanying Ralston on Tuesday were Cobb state Reps. Bert Reeves, R-Marietta, Don Parsons, R-north Cobb, Sharon Cooper, R-east Cobb, and Matt Dollar, R-east Cobb.
When asked, all four indicated that they still support Ralston keeping his speakership.
“I’ve lived long enough to know there’s two sides to every story, and one wouldn’t get reported,” Cooper said. “I’ve heard things today that just reinforced my belief in the speaker and his explanation.”
Look for more on the speaker’s talk with the MDJ in Sunday’s edition.
NO. 1 IN NURSING: For those considering a career in nursing, now is a good time and here is a good place.
Nursing remains one of the hottest career tracks with the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicting the need for qualified Licensed Practical Nurses to increase 12 percent. That’s why the time is right to enter the profession.
As far as being in a good place, you can’t pick a better spot than Cobb County to learn the skills. Rankings released by PracticalNursing.org name Chattahoochee Technical College’s Licensed Practical Nursing program as the best in the state of Georgia.
With an overall score of 99.30 out of 100, Chattahoochee Tech beat out 21 other Georgia schools based on a review of first-time pass rates for the LPN exam.
Chattahoochee’s Registered Nursing program came in third of 53 Georgia RN schools analyzed. Neighboring Kennesaw State University ranked next at No. 4.
Of CTC, the organization said, “Chattahoochee Technical College in Marietta, Georgia, is an extolled provider of RN training in a bustling urban environment. Graduates from CTC are highly sought after for their professional and practical skillsets.”
Of KSU, it said, “Kennesaw State University’s WellStar School of Nursing is the biggest nursing program in the northern half of the state of Georgia. Widely acclaimed for its ... graduate, and post-grad nursing programs, KSU produces graduates that outperform the national average for state licensure.”
GOV. BRIAN KEMP announced 15 appointments to five boards and commissions, including a Powder Springs physician to the Georgia Composite Medical Board
Dr. Despina D. Dalton is Vice President of Medical Affairs and a physician adviser with Wellstar Health System.
The good doctor began her career as a pediatric emergency physician in 1992. She lives in Powder Springs with her husband, Shawn, and children: Kathryn, Harrison, and Alexander. She will be sworn-in Thursday to the medical board that is the agency that licenses physicians, physician assistants and a host of other health care professionals — perfusionists, acupuncturists, orthotists, prosthetists, etc. The Medical Board also investigates complaints and disciplines those who violate laws governing the professional behavior of its licensees.
REST IN PEACE: Tuesday morning’s zoning meeting held by the Cobb Board of Commissioners began with a moment of silence for Patricia “Trish” Hayes Steiner, an east Cobb resident who passed away Saturday at the age of 75.
Steiner’s involvement in the east Cobb community included service as a longtime member and board member of East Cobb Civic Association and as one of Commissioner Bob Ott’s appointees to the Neighborhood Safety Commission. Her obituary Monday also noted that she had been the founder of the Mt. Bethel Elementary School Foundation and a driving force in the formation of Walton High School’s Foundation and Charter Status.
Steiner is survived by her husband of 53 years, Maurice “Mo” Stiener; her children, Audra, Melissa and Brianne; and sons-in-law Steven Ritter and Yannick Bennett, according to her obituary.
Members of Steiner’s family were in attendance, which commissioners acknowledged later in the morning, with County Chairman Mike Boyce sharing the “condolences of the board.”
Also remarking on Steiner was Commissioner JoAnn Birrell, who in 2012 presented her with a proclamation in recognition of her volunteer service to Cobb County.
“Your mom, and your wife, Mo, was a true advocate at our zoning hearings,” Birrell said to family members. “She’s been a treasure to work with, and we are going to miss her terribly.”