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Michael Joseph Bowers (born 1942) was a long-serving Attorney General of Georgia before mounting an unsuccessful campaign for Georgia Governor. He now practices law with Balch & Bingham in Atlanta, Georgia.
Bowers was born in Commerce, Georgia. He graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1963 and served in the United States Air Force from 1963 to 1970. He earned a law degree from the University of Georgia in 1974, and then worked as an assistant state attorney general until his appointment as attorney general in 1981. Running as the incumbent attorney general on the Democratic ticket, he was elected in his own right in 1982. He was re-elected in 1986 and 1990. In early 1994, he quit the Democratic Party to become a Republican, and won re-election again later that year. He resigned as attorney general in June 1997 to run for the Republican nomination for governor in 1998.
Bowers was known as a very active attorney general. He did not come from a privileged background and his public service exhibited a populist flair. He vigorously opposed conflicts of interest by public officials and contractors that might undermine loyalty to the citizenry and the public's confidence in state government. For instance, despite fierce opposition from entrenched interests, Bowers was successful in convincing the courts that, due to an inherent conflict of interest, state legislators who were lawyers could not sue the state.
Bowers vigorously opposed public corruption. His targets included long-serving Georgia Labor Commissioner Sam Caldwell, whom he prosecuted for fraud. Bowers also prosecuted powerful highway construction companies for bid-rigging practices that were anti-competitive.
At the end of his tenure, one newspaper described Bowers' service as follows: "Unquestioned integrity and dedication to principles have been hallmarks of his administration, even though his unwillingness to compromise has angered politicians and constituents." Another well-known Georgia political commentator stated that in Bowers "we have come to expect an unconstrained, outspoken and active attorney general."
Bowers' political ambitions were derailed when, during his campaign for the 1998 Republican gubernatorial nomination, he admitted to a decade-long extramarital affair with his employee and secretary, a former Playboy Club waitress. The woman, Anne Davis, stated that the romance had been active as recently as six weeks prior to Bowers' June 5, 1997, announcement. Bowers went on to lose the 1998 Republican primary to Guy Millner, finishing with 39.92 percent of the vote compared with Millner's 50.38 percent.
Bowers v. Hardwick
Bowers controversially performed the duties of his office by defending the constitutionality of a Georgia criminal sodomy statute in a test case brought by the ACLU. The plaintiff was Michael Hardwick, a man who had been arrested by the Atlanta Police Department on charges including violation of the state sodomy statute. (Hardwick had engaged in consensual sex in the privacy of his own home.) The relevant county district attorney refused to prosecute the case, but the courts ruled that Hardwick nevertheless had standing to challenge the constitutionality of the statute. The United States Supreme Court upheld the statute in Bowers v. Hardwick (1986). The Georgia statute that Michael Hardwick had challenged was overturned by the Georgia Supreme Court in a subsequent case in 1998. The U.S. Supreme Court later overturned its Bowers ruling in a 2003 decision, Lawrence v. Texas, in which it stated that "Bowers was not correct when it was decided, and it is not correct today." Bowers has declined further comment on the case, saying "I did my job as best I knew how, and reasonable people can disagree about it, but that’s all I want to say about it now."
Shahar v. Bowers
Bowers faced controversy again in 1991 when he rescinded a hiring offer to a lesbian, Robin Shahar, for an assistant attorney general position because she had stated that she planned to participate in a religious ceremony of which Bowers did not approve. (Shahar planned a same-sex marriage ceremony with the blessing of her Jewish faith. ) Bowers claimed that Shahar's sexual orientation would prevent her from enforcing the state's sodomy law. Shahar sued Bowers, but the courts ruled that Bowers had not violated her constitutional rights in rescinding the job offer.
Since leaving public office, Bowers has entered private practice. In one notable case, he successfully sued Fulton County, Georgia for "reverse" discrimination against several white library employees who were given job reassignments because of their race. (Fulton County eventually settled for $18 million.)
Bowers successfully led the merger of his Atlanta-based firm into the larger Alabama-based firm of Balch & Bingham in June, 2003.
In 2003, Bowers started a government relations and lobbying firm with his son Bruce Bowers and John Watson, the political consultant for Georgia's then-governor, Sonny Perdue. Bowers said they had a simple objective: "to make money."
- Kathey Alexander & Bill Montgomery, "The Bowers Disclosure Damage Control", Atlanta Journal-Constitution, June 7, 1997.
- Adele Brinkley, "Bowers sets forth his ideas for Georgia," Henry Herald, February 7, 1997 (in a political speech, Bowers stated that he was the grandson of a sharecropper who bled to death from lack of medical care and that his dad was a truck driver).
- Georgia Dept. of Human Resources v. Sistrunk, 249 Ga. 543 (1982).
- Caldwell v. State, 171 Ga. App. 680 (1984); "Convicted Georgia Aide Vows to Oust Witness", New York Times, April 28, 1984; "Sam Caldwell, Ex-Labor Commish Dies," AP Online, March 4, 2001 (http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1P1-42528812.html).
- State v. Shepherd Const. Co., 248 Ga. 1 (1981).
- "Bowers Action sets example and creates opportunity for others," Athens Daily News, May 6, 1997.
- Bill Shipp, "Test time for new Att. Gen.," Marietta Daily Journal, May 28, 1997.
- Our Georgia History
- "National News Briefs; Republican Concedes in Georgia Primary", The New York Times, July 29, 1998.
- 478 U.S. 186 (1983).
- Powell v. State, 270 Ga. 327 (1998).
- 539 U.S. 558 (2003),
- Douglas-Brown, Laura (12 July 2001). "Bowers v Hardwick at 15". Southern Voice. Retrieved 11 July 2012.
- Lewin, Tamar (11 Mar 1992). "Judge Affirms Suit by Lesbian Over Withdrawal of Job Offer". New York Times. Retrieved 11 July 2012.
- Shahar v. Bowers, 114 F.3d 1097 (11th Cir. 1997).
- Bogle v. McClure, 332 F.3d 1347 (11th Cir. 2003).
- Olson, Walter. "There goes the library budget". Overlawyered: Chronicling the high cost of our legal system. Retrieved 11 July 2012.
- Massey, Bowers & Hembree (19 Jan 2003). "New business for Bowers". Atlanta Business Chronicle. Retrieved 11 July 2012.
- "Honorary Degrees Awarded by Oglethorpe University". Oglethorpe University. Retrieved 2015-03-13.
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