Aug. 28 — ALBANY — U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts described his role as calling balls and striking legal cases.
Asked the same question, the chief justice of the Georgia Court of Appeals also offered a sports analogy for how he sees the court.
“I think one of the easiest ways to describe it is we’re the replay booth,” said head judge Brian Rickman. “Local judges are like umpires, making calls in real time. We need to slow things down and review, (providing) an extra layer for citizens to appeal what happens in your local courts.”
The court does not look at the facts of individual cases but makes its decisions based on the law, said the judge, who was appointed to the court by then-Gov. Nathan Deal in 2015 and was sworn in as chief judge in June 2021. Cases heard by the court can range from shoplifting to multi-million dollar civil cases.
“They’re all interesting,” said Rickman, who was in Albany with fellow Court of Appeals judge and former Dougherty County District Attorney Ken Hodges on Thursday to visit the courthouse and address a meeting of the Rotary Club. “The main thing in appeals is that we’re not supposed to substitute our judgment for the judge’s judgment. We’re a court of error correction.”
The chief judge began his legal career as an assistant district attorney and also worked in private practice for four years before being appointed in 2008 by Deal to an appointment as district attorney in the Mountain Judicial District.
His first role in the legal system began when he worked as a prison guard. Having family members in law enforcement, he was considering it as a career at the time.
“When I was a jailer, I sat in court for a few trials and was fascinated by what goes on in courtrooms,” he said. “It’s a human drama on a level you can’t imagine.”
In his private career, Rickman said his experience handling murder cases had the most impact and was the most interesting. In one case, a client he represented was a young man who had been abused for years by his father and killed.
In that case the charges were eventually dismissed.
“It helped me a lot,” he said of his time in private practice. “Every murder case had an element of tragedy throughout. Your public defenders, your prosecutors and your judges deal with people’s lives every day. It certainly helped that you had that background.
“That’s the great thing about this court: The judges come from many different backgrounds. We can learn from each other.”
This summer, the spotlight was on the courts in a way they haven’t been in perhaps years with the US Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade. The political—and human—consequences of that decision are still playing out and are already having an impact on elections, including the overwhelming vote in Kansas not to repeal abortion protections in the state constitution.
Polls also suggest the issue could have an impact on the fall election as well.
For Rickman, it is important that the courts stay out of politics.
“I think one of the things we have to do is let the public know that we’re nonpartisan and let people know what we’re doing,” he said. “We don’t exist without public trust.”
One of the local issues Rickman took up with The Herald was the Dougherty Judicial Circuit’s request for a fourth judge.
Rickman, a member of the Georgia Judicial Council, which will make a recommendation on the request, said Dougherty County is one of the most justified in the state to make the request based on the number of cases each of them handles. three current judges.
“Dougherty County is No. 1 with a 1.8 rating,” Rickman said. “That means each judge is doing the work of 1.8 judges, so almost twice as much.”
The Dougherty County Commission will discuss the issue during Monday’s meeting.