The Family Law Section of the DeKalb Bar Association, September breakfast.
by Georgia Lord
Georgia Lord Law
DeKalb Bar Family Section Board
Justice Carol W. Hunstein of the Georgia Supreme Court addressed the September breakfast meeting of the DeKalb Bar Association Family Law Section. Justice Hunstein reminisced about her years on the DeKalb bench and shared some practical tips for practitioners litigating in the Georgie Supreme Court.
Pictured: FLS Chair Kyla Lines (left) with Justice Carol Hunstein
Justice Hunstein served as a DeKalb Superior Court judge for eight years. She said she had enjoyed her work there. She reported that she had particularly enjoyed working alongside DeKalb Superior Court Judge Clarence Seeliger, who continues to be a dear friend of hers. She was the first woman to serve on the DeKalb Superior Court, and this initially created a few memorable moments. She said that one such moment occurred shortly before she was sworn in. The court administrator at the time contacted her to discuss the problems they were having obtaining a suitable robe in time for her swearing-in. He asked whether she would find it acceptable to use a cheaply made robe on a temporary basis, until a suitable, custom made robe could be prepared. She responded, “Yes, as long as it is pink.” There was a long silence before he realized that she was not serious.
Another memorable moment came right after she was sworn in, when her division was designated as presiding. This designation meant that during her early days on the job, she had to slog through whole calendars of motions from other judges’ cases.
The justice recalled that when she was appointed to the Georgia Supreme Court in 1992, her pay actually decreased. She nonetheless finds the work there interesting and challenging. She noted that the court currently grants applications to appeal from final divorce judgments, except for appeals that are totally frivolous. The number of applications the court has received in domestic relations cases has dropped in recent years: there were 23 in 2011, but only 11 in 2014.
Justice Hunstein shared a number of practical suggestions for attorneys practicing before the Georgia Supreme Court:
- Make your briefs precise; focus in on the most important issue first.
- If you represent the appellant, you need to arrange for the record to be transmitted to the Supreme Court – and then check to make sure it has actually gotten there. Your chances of winning your appeal plummet without a record.
- The Court will sometimes change the law, but will only do so if a litigant demonstrates very good reasons for the change. Use the law of sister jurisdictions if it is helpful, but when you cite these authorities make it very clear that they are from another jurisdiction.
- Enjoy the convenience provided by the Court’s E-filing system, but do not push the envelope by filing close to midnight on the due date.
- Many appeals are dismissed due to failure to follow the discretionary appeal process in cases in which it is required.
- Be collegial with your opposing counsel at oral argument: shake hands in a professional manner. The Justices notice this, and appreciate it!
- During oral argument, get to the point quickly and hammer it as much as you can.
- Respond directly and clearly to questions. The current bench tends to be active, so you may feel as though you are under cross-examination. You need to be prepared to defend your theory as succinctly as possible. Even when you feel pressured, be careful not to lose a respectful demeanor.
One way to make a poor impression during oral argument is to mispronounce a Justice’s name. [Hint: Hunstein = HUN stin (with a long i) and Nahmias = NAH me ahz]
Justice Hunstein reported that the current court is relatively conservative and tends to lean toward strict construction of contracts. She noted that in recent years there has been a lot of litigation regarding the interpretation of settlement agreements. She encouraged practitioners to exercise great care in drafting these: they should attempt to anticipate and provide for every possible contingency. She also noted that a lot of unnecessary litigation arises from poor documentation regarding the application of the child support guidelines.
In closing, Justice Hunstein remarked that because she spent so much time “judging” on the bench, she is reluctant to sit in judgment of individuals she encounters in other situations. She encouraged attendees to get to know people and open our hearts to them.
Judge Christopher J. McFadden of the Georgia Court of Appeals attended this event. The DeKalb bench was also represented: Superior Court judges Clarence Seeliger, Mark Scott, and J.P. Boulee attended, as well as DeKalb Superior Court staff attorneys Amy Daldrey and Shannon Hicks. Judge Seeliger shared the news that he will be running for reelection in 2016. Section Chair Kyla Lines presided over the program; Section Vice-chair Alice Limehouse introduced Justice Hunstein; and Section Treasurer Dawn de Klerk introduced the Family Section sponsors.
Join Us Nov. 3
The Family Law Section Breakfast is held on the first Tuesday of each month, 7:30-9 am at the historic Old Courthouse on the Square in downtown Decatur, 101 E. Court Square. Join us for for a delicious buffet breakfast and a changing lineup of guest speakers who provide insights and new information about family law.
Our guest speaker for the November 3 breakfast is TBA. To RSVP click here.
For more information . . .
If you practice family law in DeKalb County we encourage you to visit the Family Law Section page on the DeKalb Bar website where you will find valuable information regarding each DeKalb County judge’s preferences for a variety of calendar and procedural issues.