A few years ago, we told you of the unusual partnership between trial lawyers, long the backbone of Democratic campaigns in Georgia, and Republican Gov. Nathan Deal. That surprising love affair burns brighter than ever today.
The governor leaned heavily on the trial bar during his re-election campaign, getting more donations from the legal community in the first six months of his bid for a second term than his predecessor, Sonny Perdue, got from attorneys in his entire 2006 campaign.
Trial lawyers enthusiastically supported some of his biggest legislative initiatives, including his criminal justice overhauls. And the latest sign of an enduring courtship came Friday when the Georgia Trial Lawyers Association feted Deal with its "2015 Champion of Justice Award."
The association's president, Darren Penn, cited his support for legislation that gives child sexual abuse victims more time to pursue civil lawsuits against their abusers and "a strong track record of appointing highly-qualified judges" to openings.
The embrace of Deal may partly be because he's taken a different tack than his predecessor, who targeted the trial lawyer lobby with a particular zeal.
One of the first measures Perdue signed in 2005 after the GOP took control of the House was a rewrite of medical malpractice rules that attorneys groups fought vigorously. He was also at the center of a high-stakes funding battle with the judiciary that almost led to a courtroom fight.
Penn said there's another reason for the show of support for Georgia's top Republican: The trial lawyers association has become more bipartisan as GOP rule became more entrenched here.
"The civil justice system is a very Republican idea," Penn said. "It's very Republican to accept responsibility for something you have done wrong."
Penn estimated that half the GTLA's members are now Republicans.
Past President Linley Jones of the Linley Jones Firm agreed. Jones, a lifelong Republican who was elected to he Brookhaven City Council, said the GTLA was mostly Democratic 20 years ago—but then so was most of the state.
The conservative Democrats ruling Georgia decades ago were at least as conservative as today's Republicans, said Penn and longtime GTLA member William Stone of Boone & Stone.