Former State Rep. Ronnie Mabra appointed Co-Chairman of State House Committee

Photo: Jason Getz / AJC

Photo: Jason Getz / AJC

A panel packed with attorneys, judges and current and former lawmakers will advise House Speaker David Ralston on what, if any, changes are needed to an expansive state law allowing lawyer-legislators to delay court appearances for legislative business.

“I am committed to a thorough review of our legislative leave statutes, and I am confident this bipartisan group of legislators, lawyers, judges and others will offer an informed opinion on how we should proceed,” Ralston said in a written statement.

The panel is co-chaired by former House Republican Whip Edward Lindsey, an Atlanta lawyer who is now a lobbyist for the multinational firm Dentons, and former Democratic Rep. Ronnie Mabra, a personal injury attorney from Fayetteville.

The panel also includes state Reps. John Burns and Bob Trammell, respectively the current Republican and Democratic leaders in the House. Georgia Supreme Court Justice John Ellington and state Appeals Court Judge Brian Rickman, among others, also will serve on the 12-person panel.

Ralston, who is a lawyer in private practice, promised to convene the group after a joint Atlanta Journal-Constitution/Channel 2 Action News investigation uncovered how the powerful Republican from Blue Ridge used legislative leave to delay cases for his clients. Some of those cases were delayed for years with the speaker claiming time and again he was too busy to attend to them.

Ralston defended his use of legislative leave as appropriate, given the demands of his position. While he has declined a sit-down interview with the AJC’s investigative reporters, Ralston spoke this week about the panel on Georgia Public Broadcasting’s “Lawmakers.”

“We will let them go to work. I don’t want to dictate to them either what they do or the speed at which they do it. I want them to get it right,” he said. “I think it’s an important issue and one I think we are taking a reasonable approach to.”

According to a press release from Ralston’s office, the panel will review the state’s current law and compare it with practices in other states. An AJC review of similar laws from across the nation found Georgia’s legislative leave statute among the nation’s most generous.

The panel does not have much time to make its suggestions if change is to come this year. The General Assembly has 15 working days left in its 40-day calendar.

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