GA Top Court Balanced Between Pro-Consumer and Pro-Biz
Morris News Service
June 4, 2012 — ATLANTA -- A study by a consumer-advocacy group shows the Georgia Supreme Court fluctuated between favoring consumers and leaning toward businesses.
The Atlanta-based Georgia Watch released the report Thursday produced by its subsidiary Court Watch.
"In 2011, the Georgia judiciary wavered back and forth between expanding and constricting the protections afforded to Georgia consumers in today's turbulent marketplace. From an unsettling interpretation of the Fair Business Practices Act to bolstering consumer remedies in foreclosure actions, 2011 was a busy year," said the report's author Matthew Massey.
For example, the justices ruled in favor of consumers facing the possibility of foreclosure but against them in a lawsuit when customers relied on what a sales representative promised beyond what the contract called for.
"The Georgia Supreme Court harshly reminded Georgia consumers, Let the buyer beware,'" Massey wrote about the contract-versus-salesman case.
Whether the court tilts more toward consumers or toward employers has been a matter of intense debate in recent years. Business groups warn that the availability of jobs depends on the court's philosophy.
"Georgia's ability to attract and retain companies is inextricably tied to the existence of a fair and impartial judiciary that disposes of cases in a reasonable and timely manner," said Joselyn Baker, spokeswoman for the Georgia Chamber of Commerce. "Our chamber pays close attention to matters pending before the court and files amicus briefs as warranted in order to ensure that the business community's perspective is included in the decision-making process."
Business groups sought to unseat justices they accused of being too sympathetic to consumers in the last three election cycles. This year, none of the three justices up for re-election drew opponents, Carol Hunstein, Hugh Thompson and Harold Melton.
Hunstein was one of those originally targeted in her last election as well as former Justice Leah Sears in hers. They are the only two women to serve on the state's highest court.
A separate report also released this week said Georgia's Supreme Court gives women justices as much opportunity to write the majority opinions in major cases as it gives the white, male justices. Other states showed more racial and gender bias, according to lead author Robert Christensen, an assistant professor of public administration and policy with the University of Georgia School of Public and International Affairs.
"We were really sort of surprised that in some courts judges exercised bias against one another," he said.
Georgia is one of 22 states where the justices simply rotate the task to draft majority opinions. The other states either assign them randomly or the chief justice picks who to write for the court.