Ginny Looney: Lawyer emphasized, enforced ethics in Atlanta

When Shirley Franklin ran for mayor of Atlanta, she said her top priority would be to restore ethical behavior to city government. After winning the election and City Council approval of a law setting higher standards and mandating greater compliance, Franklin turned to an Atlanta lawyer, Ginny Looney, to make it work.

Looney had been law clerk to the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Georgia, Norman Fletcher, when Franklin interviewed her for the new position of city ethics officer.

“I was immediately struck by her sincerity, her interest in transparency, and her belief in fairness and in finding ways to reinvigorate the public’s trust in the city,” Franklin recalled this week.

Looney set in motion new policies and procedures that helped curb corruption. She held the line against efforts to dilute the standards, established a Web-based method for city officials to file disclosure forms, and started a 24-hour hotline so city employees could report ethical breaches. She led training workshops for about 5,000 city employees.

During her eight years as ethics officer, Looney issued hundreds of formal and informal legal advisories and responses to requests for advice, prosecuted more than 75 violations, and negotiated a dozen settlements. The ethics office reported that the financial disclosure-filing rate among city officials increased during her tenure from 77 percent to 98 percent.

She did much of that while battling the ovarian cancer that, five years after diagnosis, finally ended her life. Looney, of Atlanta, died Wednesday, June 25. She was 61.

Looney’s husband of nearly 37 years, Steve Suitts, said that, at her request, “a remembrance to celebrate our time together, not to mourn my death,” will be held for family and friends in a few months instead of a funeral service now. Cremation Society of Georgia is in charge of arrangements.

Virginia Lucile Looney was born on Sept. 11, 1952, and grew up in Huntsville, Ala. She received her bachelor’s degree in Southern studies and women’s studies from the University of Alabama.

She worked as a newspaper reporter in Decatur, Ala., and in public interest law projects for the American Civil Liberties Union in Alabama and in Georgia, then earned her law degree in 1985 at the University of Georgia, where she graduated first in her class and served as editor of the Georgia Law Review.

Looney served as a law clerk for U.S. District Judge William Wayne Justice in the eastern district of Texas before returning to Atlanta to join the law firm of Mayer, Nations, & Perkerson, followed by three years as a litigation specialist at Bondurant, Mixson & Elmore.

In 1991, she joined Fletcher at the Supreme Court. “Ginny’s great analytical skills and writing skills and research skills really put her in a class all by herself,” he said. “She was one of the most important people in my life,” he added. “When you look back on people who were so important in your life, there might be five or six, and she was certainly one of those.”

Former Mayor Franklin said Looney had a pragmatic approach to implementing the city’s new ethics apparatus. When public officials resisted, Franklin said, “Ginny never went on the attack, she didn’t vilify people, she didn’t demonize them. But ultimately, Ginny won. She didn’t try to be the smartest person in the room, though, more often than not, she was.”

After eight years as city ethics officer, Looney returned to the Georgia Supreme Court, this time to clerk for Chief Justice Carol Hunstein.

In addition to her husband, Looney is survived by her parents, Sally and Hoyt Looney of Lacey Springs, Ala.; sons David Suitts, of Charlottesville, Va. and Phillip Suitts of Atlanta; her brother, James Looney of Huntsville, Ala.; and a sister, Mary Ann Buehler of Spring Hill, Tenn. She was preceded in death by her sister, Jane Leila Looney.

The family has asked that memorial gifts go toward establishment of the Ginny Looney Summer Fellowship at the Southern Education Foundation, 135 Auburn Ave., 2nd floor, Atlanta, Ga. 30303.

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