Incumbent Unseated in State Bar Election

Friday, May 14, 2010
It was the first time in memory that an office holder was challenged
By Janet L. Conley, Associate Editor

In an unprecedented move for a State Bar of Georgia election, Robin Frazer Clark has unseated incumbent C. Wilson DuBose for the job of secretary.

The bar, which released election results this week, reported that Clark, a personal injury lawyer who runs her own firm, garnered 3,552 votes to DuBose's 3,015. DuBose is a litigator focusing primarily on business and construction law with DuBose, Massey, Bair & Evans in Madison, Ga.

Clifton A. Brashier Jr., the bar's executive director, said this is the first challenge to an incumbent officer he can recall in the bar's history. Incumbents are not identified as such on the ballot members use to vote.

Brashier also said that Clark is only the second woman, not including those in the Younger Lawyers Division, to become a bar officer. The first was Linda A. Klein, now with Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, who served as bar president in 1998.

A contested race for the open treasurer's post went to Charles L. "Buck" Ruffin of Baker Donelson in Macon, with 3,536 votes. His opponent, Nancy J. Whaley of Sandy Springs, a standing Chapter 13 trustee, garnered 3,120 votes.

A hotly contested Board of Governors seat for the Atlanta Circuit, Post 16-which had 13 contenders-went to Dawn M. Jones of King & Spalding.

Kenneth L. Shigley of Chambers, Aholt & Rickard was elected president-elect without opposition. The current president-elect, S. Lester Tate III of Akin & Tate in Cartersville, and the rest of the officers and Board of Governors members will move into their new posts at the bar's annual meeting June 18 and 19 at Amelia Island, Fla.

For full election results, visit:
http://www.gabar.org/news/election_results_2010_state_bar_of_georgia_election/

In running against an incumbent, Clark not only made bar history, she also sped up the usual process by which lawyers rise to an officer's post. Typically, lawyers serve on the bar's Board of Governors for a number of years before moving to the Executive Committee for several years and then to an officer's post. Clark has served on the Board of Governors, but spent only a year on the Executive Committee prior to running for office. The secretary's post is viewed as being a feeder position for bar presidency.

As DuBose put it, "All these officer positions are simply training positions for people who have a desire to become state bar president. Very few people go out for these positions simply to have these positions be the final destination."

DuBose said he was disappointed at losing the secretary's post, and that he was unsure why he lost.

"Georgia Trial Lawyers Association members probably came out in big numbers," he said. "They always do a good job getting out the vote."

Clark is a past president of GTLA. Her husband, Bill Clark, is political director for the Georgia Trial Lawyers Association and lobbies for the group.

Robin Clark said she believes she won because she traveled the state, campaigning for the post. "I shook literally thousands of lawyers' hands, and people appreciate that, even in a state bar race."

Clark said she took the unusual move of challenging an incumbent because "I felt like we needed to improve relations with the Georgia Legislature immediately. We couldn't wait around for that and I feel like I can deliver that for the state bar. . I have great relationships with a lot of legislators. I have their respect and the state bar needs that."

Clark said she wasn't sure what caused the bar's less-than-ideal relationship with the Legislature.

"The two things that are typically cited by legislators are the . Public Defender Standards Council and the way some folks have gone about trying to promote that or push that, and then the second thing that's typically cited . is the advisory opinion. that basically said if there's a conflict in a public defender's office-which happens all the time-then two public defenders from the same circuit cannot represent the co-defendants in the same case."

That opinion has generated controversy because of concerns over the cost of hiring outside conflict defenders. (An amendment to the Georgia code addressing this problem passed both the House and Senate and is awaiting Gov. Sonny Perdue's signature; see At Issue, page 4, for an opinion piece on this subject.)

DuBose chaired the Public Defender Standards Council from 2007 until 2009, and had previously served as its vice chairman and as a member of the Supreme Court Commission on Indigent Defense.

"There are many in the bar who believe that its work on indigent defense-which has actually been the work of a few dedicated people like Wilson DuBose-has hurt its relationship with the Legislature," Stephen B. Bright, president and senior counsel at the Southern Center for Human Rights, said in an e-mail message. "Wilson ... learned a great deal about indigent defense and realized that Georgia was falling far short of its constitutional obligation to provide counsel to poor people accused of crimes. ... Now he has been rewarded for his selfless work for a fairer, better criminal justice system by being voted out of office so that the bar can distance itself from indigent defense. This is immensely disappointing."

Clark said she did not see her win as a signal that bar members want the bar to change its approach to indigent defense. "Many members voted for me simply because I got out there and hustled," she said, adding that others chose her because she is a woman, and many know about her relationship with state legislators, honed through her work with GTLA.

The bar needs a good relationship with the Legislature in part to encourage more lawyers to become legislators-there are only 37 now, she said. Incentives such as provisions to ensure that lawyer-legislators can't be called to trial if they're serving at committee meetings, which occur year-round, would be helpful, she said.

Associate Editor Janet L. Conley can be reached at jconley@alm.com