By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published September 30, 2010
A judge who works to protect women forced into prostitution and a lawyer who advocates for legal counsel for the poor were applauded by the St. Thomas More Society, as it recognized the two for their contributions to the Atlanta legal community.
The society, a group of Catholic lawyers, gave its 2010 awards for promoting justice to attorney Emmet Bondurant II and Judge Janis Gordon.
The two were among more than 200 attorneys, judges, law clerks and others who work in the law profession who attended the Red Mass, celebrated on Sept. 16 at Sacred Heart Basilica.
Protestant and Jewish spiritual leaders joined Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory in marking the annual event, which has roots in 13th-century Europe, and invokes the guidance of the Holy Spirit on the proceedings of the judiciary at the beginning of the court year. Dubbed the Red Mass, the color comes from the scarlet robes worn by the clergy when celebrating a votive Mass of the Holy Spirit.
Jenny Chapin, an attorney at Savell Williams and a parishioner at Mary Our Queen Church, in Norcross, said the occasion reflects the church’s high regard for the legal profession.
Chapin works as a litigator in civil lawsuits, an area of the law often associated with contentious disputes. But she said lawyers need to show compassion for everyone in a lawsuit because it can be critical to resolving disputes and working toward solutions.
Attorney Matthew Gries also worships at Mary Our Queen Church. He is a tax attorney at the Sutherland law firm. The Red Mass reminds all the attorneys, judges, and others in the profession how they are linked together and even if they work on cases from different points of view, they are one legal community, he said.
During the Mass, Archbishop Gregory told the congregation how the law and people who work with it them must balance mercy, compassion and the law.
“Your highest responsibility is always the careful adjudication of our laws, yet your enduring legacy will also include the prudent application of mercy in your verdicts—one is never far removed from the other,” he said.
It isn’t enough just to pass judgment by rote, the archbishop said, because “no true justice can ever fail to consider the human person in all of his or her totality.”
“The vitally important responsibility that you exercise for our community is more than worthy of the spiritual support and encouragement that this Red Mass annually offers for all of you,” he said.
Judicial officials keep the community safe from violent criminals and also have the “daunting responsibility of responding compassionately when circumstances warrant it,” he said.
“That is why you need our prayers and our respect, which we gladly offer to you readily this day,” said Archbishop Gregory.
“Justice itself must continuously be pursued, yet aided by mercy, and the interplay between those two virtues has always challenged the most learned and experienced legal minds,” he said.
2010 Award for Promoting Justice
Judge Janis Gordon
DeKalb State Court Judge Janis Gordon has been fighting the sexual exploitation of women and children. She was the first federal prosecutor in the country to use the federal racketeering laws to imprison pimps who profited from children selling sex on the street.
Her work has been recognized by Shared Hope International and the Protection Project of Johns Hopkins University honored her with the first annual World Alliance Against Trafficking Pathbreaker Award and the nonprofit organization “A Future, Not A Past” awarded her its Legacy Award.
Judge Gordon is a member of DeKalb County’s Task Force for Runaway, Homeless and Sexually Exploited Youth, and remains involved in this effort.
She answered questions from The Georgia Bulletin about the award given by the St. Thomas More Society.
GB: What was your reaction when you were told about the St. Thomas More Award?
Judge Gordon: I was extremely honored to be chosen to receive the St. Thomas More Award.
GB: What got you interested in practicing law?
Judge Gordon: I became interested in practicing law as a young girl growing up in Baltimore in the ‘60s, and seeing that there was so much to be done to ensure equality, justice, and fairness for all.
GB: The St. Thomas More Society honored you for your efforts surrounding the sexual exploitation of women/children. Why did you get involved in that area of the law?
Judge Gordon: I became involved in fighting the sexual exploitation of children in my capacity as a federal prosecutor, when I became aware of the extent of this problem on the streets of Atlanta. Since the pimping of minors was merely a misdemeanor under state law, I felt that the federal government needed to step in to take a strong stance and help solve the problem. I was able to use the federal racketeering laws to prosecute the fifteen most notorious pimps who targeted children. All of the defendants were convicted, with the most experienced and dangerous pimps receiving prison sentences of 30 and 40 years. After the successful RICO (racketeering) prosecution, legislation was passed making the pimping of minors a felony under state law, so now the state has a mechanism for addressing this problem.
GB: What would you like more people to know about the sexual exploitation of women/children in Georgia and the rest of the country?
Judge Gordon: The sexual exploitation of children remains a significant problem, both in Atlanta and in other large cities. These children are innocent; they must be treated as victims rather than as criminals themselves. Moreover, the pimps, as well as the customers, need to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, in order to deter such reprehensible conduct in the future. In fact, during my investigation, one of the pimps advised his drug dealer that he should move from drug dealing to prostitution, because the feds would not prosecute prostitution cases, and the sentences were much lighter. That should not be the case; we must protect our children.
GB: In his homily, the archbishop talked about the “prudent application of mercy” in the practice of the law. How is it possible for a judge, in the midst of a criminal trial or civil litigation, to show that quality? What message did you take from the Red Mass?
Judge Gordon: As a state court judge, I am able to exhibit the “prudent application of mercy” every day; I am constantly trying to find ways to help young people change direction and ultimately the course of their lives. I try to find programs and services to ensure that the misdemeanants who appear in my court will not be repeat offenders. Sometimes I have to be tough on the front end, but it’s worthwhile on the back end, when the young offender finally understands and turns his or her life around. I am so thankful that I have the opportunity to change lives on a daily basis.
Emmet J. Bondurant II
Bondurant has been called a “true constitutional warrior.”
The society gave him its award to celebrate his work against the death penalty and for his efforts to help insure legal representation for the poor.
He is the senior partner in the firm of Bondurant, Mixon and Elmore. But his service isn’t just in the courtroom. His contributions to the community are many, from trustee on the Atlanta Commission on Crime and Juvenile Delinquency and chairman of the Atlanta City Charter Commission to sitting on the University of Georgia Law School Board of Visitors. He gave the following responses to questions in an interview with The Georgia Bulletin.
GB: What was your reaction when you were told about the St. Thomas More Award?
Bondurant: I was both surprised and pleased when my former partner Michael Sullivan called to tell me that I had been selected for the award.
GB: What got you interested in practicing law so long ago?
Bondurant: I went to law school at the suggestion of a friend and fraternity brother, Irwin Stolz, who now is retired and lives in Athens. I entered law school in 1957 because I could not find anything else in which to major and with no intention of completing the degree.
GB: The St. Thomas More Society honored you for your efforts surrounding the death penalty and for indigent defense issues. Why did you get involved in that area of the law?
Bondurant: My work began in 1964 when I was the youngest lawyer appointed to a committee of the state bar that had been appointed in the wake of the ruling of the Supreme Court the previous year in Gideon v. Wainwright and I ended up writing a report for the committee that was published in the State Bar Journal.
As a member of the indigent defense committee of the state bar, I drafted the principles of indigent defense that became the blueprint of what became the Indigent Defense Act of 2003, and spent a lot of time lobbying members of the General Assembly to approve the act.
Quite unexpectedly, I was appointed by Terry Coleman, who was then the Speaker of the Georgia House, to the Georgia Public Defender Standards Council, the organization that was charged with the responsibility of organizing and establishing a statewide public defender system in Georgia, and served as chair of the Council from June 2003 until March of 2007.
GB: What would you like more people to know about the death penalty and its use in Georgia and the rest of the country?
Bondurant: The death penalty in Georgia and in the states that have retained the death penalty should be abolished for two simple reasons: (1) it does not deter crime and (2) the criminal justice system, like other human institutions, is seriously flawed and has a very significant error rate. (A study by Columbia University Law School shows that over two-thirds of cases in which defendants are convicted and sentenced to death by juries are reversed on direct appeal or habeas corpus for serious constitutional errors; on retrial 80 percent of the defendants received a sentence of less than death and 7 percent were acquitted outright).
GB: In his homily, the archbishop talked about the “prudent application of mercy” in the practice of the law. How is it possible for an attorney, in the midst of a criminal trial or civil litigation, to show that quality?
Bondurant: I believe that there is often a disconnect between ‘the law’ and ‘justice’ and that judges and lawyers often hide behind the ‘law’ to absolve themselves from moral responsibility for the injustice of their decisions and actions. The Spanish Inquisition and “Les Miserables” are two classic examples of this distinction.