Ralston facing calls for ouster over delayed court cases

Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, speaks to members of the press Thursday in advance of the legislative session that begins Monday. Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com

Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, speaks to members of the press Thursday in advance of the legislative session that begins Monday. Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com

House Speaker David Ralston is facing criticism from Democrats and some conservatives after an investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News found he frequently delayed criminal court cases by claiming the dates interfered with his legislative duties.

As lawmakers convened last week in the wake of the report, there were no calls for reprimands or demands for his ouster by high-profile legislators. But others outside the Gold Dome seized on the investigation to accuse Ralston of using his office to thwart justice and benefit his private practice.

“These revelations show that Speaker Ralston has abused his power as a public servant to delay and deny justice for crime victims,” said Maggie Chambers of the Democratic Party of Georgia. “As a legislator who has been given the trust of his constituents, he needs to remember his duty and put the needs of Georgia families before his own self-interest.”

Several others went further, including Democrat Josh McCall, who unsuccessfully ran last year for the U.S. House seat that includes Ralston’s north Georgia hometown of Blue Ridge.

“Ralston needs to either stop practicing law or step down,” McCall said. “Usually one can do both, but it sure looks like he has used his position to delay important cases.”

The investigation found that Ralston asked judges to reschedule court proceedings 57 times over a two-year period, using a law dating to 1905 requiring the judiciary to defer to legislative duties. It resulted in delays, sometimes for years, for clients charged with child molestation, child cruelty, assault, terroristic threats, drunk driving and other crimes.

Ralston said in a statement that he’s no different than other lawyer-legislators in the General Assembly who use the “provision outside of the legislative session, when necessary, to attend to my legislative duties as both a state representative and Speaker of the House.”

One reason the report didn’t trigger louder criticism from elected politicians is that he’s cultivated close ties with legislators across both party lines, even winning Democratic support every two years in the vote for House speaker.

Another is the tremendous power he wields under the Gold Dome, second only to Gov. Brian Kemp. He remembers every “no” vote, every snub and every slight -- and can exact revenge by sidelining bills, tanking pet projects or rerouting committee assignments in a way that the governor cannot.

Even so, the story by the AJC's Johnny Edwards was the talk of the Capitol, and it triggered petitions calling for his removal. More than a few lobbyists and politicians came up to reporters to buzz about the fallout, and few of his allies rallied publicly to his defense. Several conservative commentators, meanwhile, weren't so reticent.

Neal Boortz, the former talk show pundit, said Ralston should face ethics violations and sanctions from the state Bar of Georgia.

And Erick Erickson, the WSB radio host and editor of The Resurgent, accused Republicans of "enabling this and letting it happen" by making no move against Ralston. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and WSB Radio share a parent company, Cox Media Group.

"This is not a right versus left issue. This is not a Republican versus Democrat issue," wrote Erickson, a frequent Ralston critic. "This is Republicans continuing to employ David Ralston as Speaker of the House. As long as they do so, he can continue ensuring criminal defendants can avoid ever having to face their victims."

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