Marietta lawyer wins 9-0 in SCOTUS debut
12:38 pm, April 3rd, 2012
Carving out a career at the state Law Department is seen as one of the better ways for a Georgia lawyer to obtain the often-elusive opportunity make an argument before the nation’s highest court.
Marietta lawyer John C. Jones, who was with the attorney general’s office for 30 years, had once second-chaired a Supreme Court argument as a lawyer for the state. But it wasn’t until he left the office that he got his big chance, making oral argument in a case this term that led to a unanimous win.
“I got to argue now that I’m in private practice—real unusual,” Jones said today, on the heels of Monday’s win by a unanimous vote.
Jones represented Doughterty County district attorney’s office investigator James Paulk in a civil case that alleged Paulk lied to a grand jury. Plaintiff Charles Rehberg’s claimed that Dougherty County authorities improperly pursued a criminal investigation against him as a political favor to Albany’s Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital. Three times Rehberg, an accountant who had sent anonymous faxes criticizing the hospital, was indicted on various charges, including making harassing phone calls. But three times the charges were dismissed.
Rehberg’s suit also had named former Dougherty DA and 2010 Democratic attorney general nominee Ken Hodges as a defendant, as well as then-Houston Circuit DA Kelly Burke, who took over the matter after Hodges recused. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit decided Hodges and Burke should have immunity on all of the claims against them.
The Eleventh Circuit also ruled that Paulk – who Jones has said didn’t make any false statements – was entitled to immunity for his grand jury testimony. But on Rehberg’s request, the high court agreed to revisit the immunity question. At arguments in November, Jones faced off against Washington attorney Andrew Pincus, whose profile on Mayer Brown’s website boasts of 23 Supreme Court arguments and notes he’s co-founder and co-director of Yale Law School’s Supreme Court Advocacy Clinic.
Rehberg had pointed to Supreme Court case law that said a “complaining witness” is not shielded by absolute immunity. But Monday’s opinion by Justice Samuel Alito Jr. said those cases involved law enforcement officials who submitted affidavits in support of applications for arrest warrants. Alito said it was clear that a “complaining witness” cannot be liable for false trial testimony, and the court saw no reason to treat grand jury testimony differently.
Jones said he got help on the matter from lawyers at his old firm, Freeman Mathis & Gary, including partner Philip W. Savrin, who made a successful argument at the high court in 2007.