David Ralston

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David Ralston
David-Ralston.jpg
73rd Speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives
Assumed office
January 11, 2010
Preceded byGlenn Richardson
Member of the Georgia House of Representatives
from the 7th district
Assumed office
January 10, 2005
Preceded byBen Bridges[1]
Member of the Georgia House of Representatives
from the 6th district
In office
January 13, 2003 – January 10, 2005
Preceded byCharles "Judy" Poag[2]
Succeeded byTom Dickson
Member of the Georgia Senate
from the 51st district
In office
January 11, 1993 – January 3, 1999
Preceded byWilliam G. "Bill" Hasty, Sr.[3]
Succeeded byBill Stephens[4]
Personal details
Born (1954-03-14) March 14, 1954 (age 65)
Ellijay, Georgia, U.S.
Political partyRepublican
Spouse(s)Jane Ralston
Children2
EducationYoung Harris College
University of North Georgia (BA)
University of Georgia (JD)

David Ralston is an attorney and a Republican member of the Georgia House of Representatives for the 7th district, encompassing parts of Dawson County, Fannin County, and Gilmer County.[5] Since January 11, 2010, he has served as the 73rd Speaker of the Georgia House.[5]

Biography[edit]

David Ralston was born in Ellijay, Georgia.[5] He attended Young Harris College, graduated from North Georgia College and State University, and later from the University of Georgia School of Law.[5]

From 1992 to 1998, he served as a member of the Georgia Senate.[5] In 1998, Ralston was the Republican nominee for Attorney General of Georgia, but he lost the election to Thurbert Baker.[6] In 2002, he was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives for the 7th district.[5] He became its Speaker in 2010, following the resignation of Glenn Richardson.[7] As such, he is the first state House Speaker from north Georgia in more than 150 years.[8]

He also works as an attorney in Blue Ridge, Georgia.[5][7] He is a member of the Fannin County Chamber of Commerce and the Blue Ridge Mountains Arts Association.[5] He has two children with his wife Jane.[5][9]

Controversies[edit]

State Bar reprimand[edit]

In 2016, Ralston and the State Bar of Georgia reached a settlement, with the Bar issuing a minor reprimand and Ralston admitting to inadvertently breaking Bar rules, ending a years-long dispute.[10] He had previously faced disbarment.[11]

Court case delays[edit]

In February 2019, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and WSB-TV reported that Ralston regularly uses his position as Speaker to benefit his Blue Ridge-based private law practice.[12] A 1905 state law (O.C.G.A. § 17-8-26)[13] requires judges and prosecutors to defer to the schedules of any member of the General Assembly who is also a practicing lawyer, and as Speaker, Ralston may claim scheduling conflicts any time of year. By delaying court cases in this manner, Ralston is able to keep his clients free on bond for months or even years, while also weakening court cases over time by letting memories fade and evidence expire. Some of Ralston's clients claim to have retained him specifically for these reasons.[14]

Journalists found that over the course of 21 cases, Ralston requested delays 57 times, and that on 76 of the 93 conflicting days, the legislature was not in session; he would commonly delay individual cases over a dozen times each. Charges against Ralston's clients who benefited from this include drunk driving, child molestation, and assault.[15]

The original law allowing this was amended over a century later in 2006 by SB 503. Previously, the law allowed representatives to delay court hearings only during the legislative session and for the following three weeks. A committee was formed to reconcile differences between the House and Senate versions of SB 503, and Ralston himself was named a member. His exact role in crafting the current law's language is unknown.[16]

Little to no pushback from judges has been found. Ralston has been known to seek revenge on political opponents and, as Speaker, controls two seats on the investigative panel of the state Judicial Qualifications Commission. Further, the Georgia legislature has made itself exempt from the Georgia Open Records Act.

Reaction[edit]

In response, Ralston stated that he would "continue to represent the people of the 7th House district, and... continue being Speaker of the House."[17] He also lashed out at reporters, saying the media is interested in "profit[,] not truth."[18]

On February 22, after more than a week of relative silence from both Republican and Democratic lawmakers—due to what the AJC calls "a reluctance seemingly rooted in Ralston's substantial political power"[16]—state representative David Clark of Buford (98th district)[19] introduced a resolution in the Georgia House (HR 328)[20][13] calling on Ralston to resign as Speaker, saying he felt "betrayed" and stating that Ralston "absolutely abused his power. He used his seat, and he's hurting people."[17] Out of 180 total members, just nine other state representatives, all Republicans, signed Clark's resolution:[21][19]

Gurtler told the AJC to "remember that legality and morality don't always align;" Moore wrote a letter to Ralston stating that "District 1 and many citizens across our great state believe you should no longer serve as the leader of Georgia's largest governing body;"[22] Pullin said Ralston's "actions may be legal according to state law, but they're not ethical or moral;"[21] Turner stated that he felt "compelled by a sense of duty to call for the speaker to put the gavel down."[21]

Griffin representative Karen Mathiak (73rd district)[19] initially signed the resolution, but later removed her signature.[13]

Meanwhile, politicians from both sides of the aisle defended Ralston. The governor's office said Gov. Brian Kemp looks forward to working with Ralston.[13] Butch Miller, Georgia Senate president pro tempore, said that Ralston "[goes] above and beyond as a citizen legislator."[23] Former Republican governor Nathan Deal said he knows Ralston is "an honorable person,"[23] and former Democratic governor Roy Barnes stated it was "foolhardy to call for [Ralston's] resignation."[23]

Many other state representatives expressed support for Ralston; after the allegations surfaced, at a closed-door meeting of Republicans at the Capitol, Ralston received a "spontaneous" round of applause.[16] House majority whip Trey Kelley of Cedartown (16th district) stated "[i]t's really unfair to the Speaker, because he also has a pretty important duty and an absolute right of privilege that exists between him and his client."[16] Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones of Milton (47th district) called Ralston a "man of integrity."[16] Kasey Carpenter of Dalton (4th district) said Ralston "operated within the confines of the law. If you don't like the law, let's change the law."[22] Ringgold representative Dewayne Hill (3rd district) said, "I hate that this is all coming about... This takes away from us doing and concentrating on the people's needs."[22][19]

Gainesville representatives Emory Dunahoo (30th district) and Lee Hawkins (27th district) both said they were withholding judgment for now.[15]

Conservative commentators were less supportive, with former radio host Neal Boortz declaring that Ralston should face ethics charges, and WSB radio host Erick Erickson said Republicans "[enabled] this and [let] it happen."[16]

The Georgia Democratic Party released a statement declaring that "Speaker Ralston has abused his power as a public servant to delay and deny justice for crime victims,"[16] while former gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams was more restrained, saying that she would "leave it to Speaker Ralston to determine if he's meeting his obligations both as an attorney and as a legislator."[24]

Changing the law[edit]

On February 25, 2019, Ralston declared in an "emotional"[25] speech to the Georgia House that he would establish a bipartisan panel to look into how the law should be changed; he also stated that as an attorney, he would not accept any new criminal cases for now.[26] Ralston's speech received a standing ovation.[26] Representative Scot Turner applauded the move to change the law, but said that Ralston still has "a lack of recognition that his actions have caused people harm."[26]

References[edit]

  1. ^ https://www.ourcampaigns.com/RaceDetail.html?RaceID=141351
  2. ^ https://www.ourcampaigns.com/RaceDetail.html?RaceID=49514
  3. ^ https://www.ourcampaigns.com/RaceDetail.html?RaceID=804056
  4. ^ https://www.ourcampaigns.com/RaceDetail.html?RaceID=288498
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i Legislature biography
  6. ^ https://www.ourcampaigns.com/RaceDetail.html?RaceID=1019
  7. ^ a b Aaron Gould Sheinin, 'Republicans back Ralston for speaker', in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, December 17, 2009 [1]
  8. ^ Ashley Fielding, 'State leaders put North Ga. in seat of power', in The Gainesville Times, January 10, 2010 [2]
  9. ^ "Senator David Ralston Profile". Georgia House of Representatives.
  10. ^ Sheinin, Aaron Gould (November 2, 2016). "Ga. House Speaker Ralston agrees to reprimand in State Bar complaint". The Atlanta-Journal Constitution. Archived from the original on 2016-11-04. Retrieved 16 February 2019.
  11. ^ Sheinin, Aaron Gould (June 26, 2014). "Supreme Court to investigate Speaker David Ralston over complaint". The Atlanta-Journal Constitution. Archived from the original on February 16, 2019. Retrieved 16 February 2019.
  12. ^ Edwards, Johnny (Feb 13, 2019). "Alleged victims say powerful Georgia lawmaker repeatedly delays cases". The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Archived from the original on 14 Feb 2019. Retrieved 16 February 2019.
  13. ^ a b c d Fowler, Stephen (22 February 2019). "Resolution Calls For House Speaker Ralston's Resignation". Georgia Public Broadcasting. Retrieved 23 February 2019.
  14. ^ Sinkewicz, Michael (15 Feb 2019). "Georgia House speaker accused of using office to delay court for clients". Fox News. Archived from the original on 15 Feb 2019. Retrieved 16 February 2019.
  15. ^ a b Reed, Megan (22 February 2019). "Resolution calls for Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston to step down". Gainesville Times. Retrieved 23 February 2019.
  16. ^ a b c d e f g Edwards, Johnny; Joyner, Chris (22 February 2019). "Ralston helped write the law allowing him to delay criminal cases". The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Retrieved 23 February 2019.
  17. ^ a b Edwards, Johnny; Bluestein, Greg (Feb 21, 2019). "Republican seeks to oust Ralston after AJC/Channel 2 investigation". The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Retrieved 23 February 2019.
  18. ^ Galloway, Jim; Bluestein, Greg; Hallerman, Tamar (25 February 2019). "The Jolt: A peek inside David Ralston's campaign for survival". The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Retrieved 26 February 2019.
  19. ^ a b c d "House Members List". Georgia House of Representatives. Retrieved 23 February 2019.
  20. ^ "2019-2020 Regular Session - HR 328". Georgia General Assembly. Retrieved 23 February 2019.
  21. ^ a b c Niesse, Mark; Bluestein, Greg (22 February 2019). "More Georgia lawmakers call for Ralston to resign as House speaker". The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Retrieved 23 February 2019.
  22. ^ a b c Jett, Tyler (22 February 2019). "Georgia state Rep. Colton Moore calls for Speaker of the House David Ralston's resignation". Times Free Press. Retrieved 23 February 2019.
  23. ^ a b c Bluestein, Greg (22 February 2019). "Georgia leaders rally around Ralston amid threat of revolt". The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Retrieved 23 February 2019.
  24. ^ Galloway, Jim; Bluestein, Greg; Hallerman, Tamar (22 February 2019). "The Jolt: Stacey Abrams refuses to join criticism of David Ralston". The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Retrieved 23 February 2019.
  25. ^ Associated Press (25 February 2019). "Georgia Speaker David Ralston fires back at criticism". Times Free Press. Retrieved 26 February 2019.
  26. ^ a b c Bluestein, Greg; Niesse, Mark (25 February 2019). "Ralston seeks changes to law letting lawmakers delay criminal cases". The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Retrieved 26 February 2019.

See also[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Glenn Richardson
Speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives
2010–present
Incumbent