Introduced at a luncheon today as one of the state Court of Appeals’ two newest judges, Judge Billy Ray said he had to check his phone to make sure that was still true. “We’re expecting a new judge to be named just about any day,” Ray said.
The court and those who practice before it still are waiting for Governor Nathan Deal to announce his pick to replace Judge Harris Adams, who retired at year’s end. Deal’s Judicial Nominating Commission last month gave him a short list of three: Dougherty County Superior Court Judge Stephen Goss, Fayette County State Court Judge Carla Wong McMillian and Tift County State Court Judge Larry Mims.
Meanwhile, Ray and the other new appeals court judge, Lisa Branch, shared their perspective on the court with a few dozen who sat down for a lunch sponsored by the State Bar’s appellate practice section at the bar’s mid-year meeting.
Ray said he didn’t think he was revealing any secrets when he said the court’s staff attorneys do a “lion’s share” of the court’s work, prompting Judge Sara Doyle to exclaim, “Oh, no,” in mock horror, to laughter from the group. “But ultimately the judge has to be involved,” he added.
Both he and Branch indicated they largely don’t ask their staff attorneys to weigh in on cases where another judge writes the decision. With “fairly routine cases” in which opinion-writing duties are assigned to him, said Ray, he may not have any input until one of his staff attorneys drafts an opinion. “But if there are cases that are controversial, I’m going to be involved on the front end of that,” said Ray.
Ray said he’ll miss being on the same panel as Branch at the end of the court’s term, known as the “distress” period. Because she started on the court after him, he wasn’t the most junior member of his panel. That person, he said, can be in a difficult spot when another judge’s opinion is circulated for approval as the end-of-term deadline looms. “The part that makes distress so fun and also worrisome is that when we do have a dispute, perhaps leading into the last week, and we’re trying to figure out how to handle that dispute … maybe the judge who is last on the totem pole hasn’t seen that case until Tuesday or Wednesday, and distress is Friday.”