Justice chooses unique accommodations

If you're reading this, it's a pretty sure bet the world didn't end yesterday as some people predicted, and we'll just have to soldier on.


But if it did, it was a grand finale to a great week.

The weather was beautiful. School was out for many area students. City officials broke ground for a new fire station on Alexander Drive. Dr. Ricardo Azziz was inaugurated as president of Georgia Health Sciences University. And U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas wowed the crowd at the dedication of the new Augusta Judicial Center and John H. Ruffin Courthouse.

His words were like balm in Gilead for those skeptical that the conservative justice was the right choice to dedicate the courthouse to Ruffin, a civil rights trailblazer.

Last year, when word surfaced that Thomas would speak, many of Augusta's black leaders objected, saying his judicial philosophy contradicts Ruffin's judicial philosophy and works.

Still, Augusta Judicial Circuit Chief Judge J. Carlisle Overstreet , who had invited Thomas, said Augusta had "hit pay dirt" when he accepted, and after the ceremonies Wednesday, everyone seemed of like mind.

YOU CAN TAKE THE JUSTICE OUT OF PIN POINT, GA., BUT YOU CAN'T TAKE PIN POINT, GA., OUT OF THE JUSTICE: You might expect a person of Thomas' stature to have been ensconced in a suite at the Marriott overlooking the Savannah River during his stay in Augusta. But the justice is an RV enthusiast who often drives his motor home when traveling out of town.

Before going on a trip, he goes online and finds places with RV hookups in the city he plans to visit. He doesn't have to concern himself if it's in a high-crime neighborhood because he travels in the company of U.S. marshals.

In Augusta, he parked for several days at Flynn's Trailer Park off Highway 25, south of Tobacco Road.

WE ALL LIVE IN A YELLOW SUBMARINE: After the dedication, Richmond County Superior Court Judge Danny Craig recalled his first meeting with Thomas.

"The first time I met Justice Clarence Thomas I was about 10 years old, and I was an altar boy, and I went to Savannah, Ga., to participate in the annual Altar Boy Awards presentation that was done in the cathedral, St. John the Baptist," Craig said.

"And they housed all of the altar boys from throughout the diocese in the old Camp Villa Marie cabins, which is on the same premises as the St. John Minor Seminary. And the first time I saw Justice Clarence Thomas he would have been a 16-year-old seminarian, and he was an actor in a one-act play directed by Father John Fitzpatrick, and it was called Submerged .

"The plot of the play depicted this submarine crew that was abandoned at the bottom of the ocean and had no energy source to get back to the surface. And it developed, basically, how people interact with each other in times of crises. And it was pretty much foreshadowing what he spoke to us today about, and that is, here we are today to dedicate a building where people come to resolve their controversy and their crises in their lives, and so it's real interesting that 45 years after I laid eyes on him that we're still trying to resolve the same human theme. And that is: 'How do we help each other through our difficulties in life?' "

JUSTICE DELAYED IS ... In welcoming remarks Wednesday, Mayor Deke Copenhaver noted it was 220 years ago to the day that George Washington made his first visit to Augusta.

Now, "220 years later, we are still a thriving democracy as a country, based, I believe, in no small part in our abiding belief in the rule of law," he said. "I will share with you that today is very poignant for me personally, as my grandfather Andrew Farrier served as a judge in Virginia. My brothers Andy and John Copenhaver are both attorneys, and my nephew Drew , who is here today, is an attorney as well. And then there was my dad, Bill, who had a strong focus on laying down the law for me and my four siblings. And let me assure you, Bill's justice was swift."

ROSES TO THE LIVING: Tuesday night, before the dedication, U.S. District Court Judge J. Randal Hall introduced Thomas to a crowd of local attorneys, judges and politicians at the Augusta Bar Association's annual dinner in the Oglethorpe Room of the Marriott. Hall called Thomas a "great American" whose rise to the highest court in the land from economic and social hardship in rural Georgia was a story that could "only be told in America."

When he took the podium to grand applause, Thomas remarked quite calmly that it was a very good introduction.

"Sometimes you feel like you, you know, you are hearing your own eulogy," he said to laughs. "I hope someone is at least as enthusiastic when I am eulogized."

SAY WHAT? At one point, Thomas said he would pursue something a bit more "esoteric," then launched into a description of the lack of equivalence between "our dormant commerce clause jurisprudence and commerce clause jurisprudence," briefly drawing confused looks from some attendees before laughter erupted.

Thomas smiled and said, "I take that as a lack of interest. It is actually a fascinating subject. To be personally honest with you, my wife, this is when she pins her eyeballs or something."

MAKES PROJECTING VOTE COUNTS A LOT EASIER: Last week's Augusta Commission meeting was basically a repeat of every other meeting in recent months. There were six white commissioners voting to contract out management of the transit department and nine other ordinance amendments related to the government's restructuring, and three black commissioners voting no.

The matter of amending an ordinance to allow commissioners to continue to meet in the Municipal Building by striking the words "at the courthouse" failed, also on a 6-3 vote, the difference being that it was a charter change, requiring eight affirmative votes.

Of course, Commissioners Bill Lockett , Alvin Mason , Corey Johnson and J.R. Hatney , who was absent Tuesday, contend that everything concerning the government's restructuring is a charter change.

ON THE TABLE, AND ON THE SPOT: At the end of the meeting, there was another discussion about what to do with a motion that had been tabled earlier. So the mayor asked Attorney Andrew MacKenzie what they should do with it. After consulting Robert's Rules of Order, MacKenzie said, "When the body feels it's urgent, they can table it," which they'd already done.

Then the discussion veered into what constituted "urgency," until the mayor asked whether the tabled motion should be carried over to the next meeting, a question MacKenzie apparently couldn't answer without further study.

"If you look at 3.03, which is a ranking of motions, Section 303.2, it says where a tabled item is, it suggests a postponement temporarily which is what has been done," MacKenzie said.

"Uh-huh," said the mayor.

"The tabled item then goes to the end of the meeting, which is where we are now. There's been a motion on it and a second to resolve items. ... " MacKenzie continued.

"There's not been a motion on an agenda item," the mayor said. "There's been a move to adjourn which has been seconded."

"Then the item would be as though it was not on the agenda," MacKenzie said.

"OK," the mayor said, obviously relieved that was over.

UNDER THE BIG TOP: So, still unresolved is the issue of being legally bound to meet in the courthouse in the judicial center. I was thinking about that as I sat under the big white tent at the dedication. That would be a perfect place for them to meet, and while it might not be in the courthouse proper, it's close enough.

Administrator Fred Russell could walk the tightrope because he's already so good at it. The mayor could be the lion tamer. MacKenzie could be the sword swallower. If he didn't want to do that, he could just fall on it.

Who the clowns would be, I leave to your imagination.

City Ink thanks Staff Writer Adam Folk for his contribution to this week's column.



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