Photo by Kathy Jefcoats
Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Carol Hunstein addresses the Clayton County Bar Association during annual Law Day in Jonesboro Friday. At left is Clayton County Superior Court Chief Judge Deborah Benefield, who introduced her.
By Kathy Jefcoats
JONESBORO — When Carol Hunstein ran for DeKalb County Superior Court judge in 1984, her opponent thought so little of a woman winning that he took a vacation while she campaigned.
Few others have made the same mistake since she won that election, becoming that county's first female Superior Court judge. Just nine years later, then-Gov. Zell Miller appointed her the second female to the Georgia Supreme Court. Miller appointed the first, Leah Ward Sears, earlier that same year.
Hunstein, now chief justice, knows a thing or two about the importance of achieving diversity in the legal arena. She was the featured speaker at Clayton County Bar Association's annual Law Day, held at the new Juvenile Justice Center in Jonesboro.
"I see many trailblazers in our midst," she said. "I've seen a lot of firsts in my lifetime, the first black and first woman appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The first black and first woman appointed to the Georgia Supreme Court. There are strong women who run for office in Georgia despite all obstacles. Equality in the courtroom is bolstered by diversity on the bench."
Hunstein was introduced by Clayton County Superior Court Chief Judge Deborah Benefield, a self-described "huge fan" of Hunstein. Benefield was the first female elected to her seat, taking office in January 1993 and becoming chief judge 18 years later.
"She has been awarded too many honors to name here," said Benefield. "She is a generous role model."
Before Benefield took the podium, Clayton County Bar Association President Steve Teske introduced members of the Jonesboro High School mock trial team. The team has won multiple state, regional and national championships over the years. They are coached by State Court Judge John Carbo, Solicitor General Tasha Mosley, Benefield and Deputy Chief Assistant District Attorney Katie Powers. Parent coaches are Anna and Andrew Cox.
Hunstein took notice, calling the team the state's "pride and joy."
As a portion of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech displayed on the wall behind her, Hunstein encouraged the attorneys, judges and students to continue striving for equality and fairness in the court system.
"A diverse jury pool reduces the opportunity for bias," she said. "In one survey, more than half of blacks didn't believe the courts were fair and impartial. Most believe there is one set of justice for the rich and powerful and another for everyone else. We must work to form a more diverse judiciary."
She credited Miller for taking those steps.
"More than 40 percent of his appointments were females and minorities," said Hunstein.
After Hunstein spoke, Teske announced annual awards. Pam Brown got the Liberty Bell Award after an introduction by former Clayton County District Attorney Bob Keller. Brown has spent her career in the child support recovery division.
Carbo presented Mosley the association's Community Service Award for her work with the mock trial team and for spearheading various charity drives throughout the year. The announcement surprised Mosley and brought the normally tough as nails prosecutor to tears.
"You guys really got me," she said. "We'll continue to do the hard work. I'll continue to work till there's no more breath in my body."
The Excellence in Bar Award was given to Forest Park attorney H. Emily George, who couldn't attend because of the death of her father-in-law. Her law partner, Alex Brian Wallach, accepted the award for her and spoke in glowing terms of her dedication to her clients and her craft.
Teske gave Mark Skibble the association's first President's Award to acknowledge his past year's assistance.