By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Staff Writer | Published October 10, 2013
ATLANTA—Members of Georgia’s legal community were scheduled to gather Oct. 10 for the 2013 Red Mass at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Atlanta, asking for God’s blessings upon those entrusted with the administration of justice and upon all public officials who serve the common good.
Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory was the principal celebrant of the Red Mass, organized by the St. Thomas More Society of Atlanta.
According to the Society, the Red Mass tradition first began more than 750 years ago in Europe. Its name comes from the scarlet robes worn by the judges attending and the color of the vestments of those celebrating the Mass.
The well-attended Mass has been a regular event on Atlanta’s legal calendar since 1995. Red Mass coordinator Brent Herrin of Cohen Pollock Merlin & Small, P.C., said that 300 invitations were sent to judges alone this year.
The president of the St. Thomas More Society, Robert B. Baker Jr. of Freeman Mathis & Gary, LLP, said the event is always a “memorable experience” for everyone attending.
“The annual Red Mass recognizes and honors the judges, prosecutors and public defenders who devote their careers to serving the public, upholding our laws and protecting the integrity of the justice system,” said Baker. “The strong support from both the state and federal judiciary has provided a tremendous boost to the event, while Archbishop Gregory’s ecumenical homilies have always been welcoming to all members of the judiciary and bar, and finally, the Mass is just a beautiful service with wonderful music.”
After the Mass a luncheon and awards ceremony followed at the Capital City Club in Atlanta to recognize the recipients of the St. Thomas More Award.
The honorees, recognized for “accomplishments in public service,” were Chief Justice Hugh P. Thompson of the Supreme Court of Georgia and state Representative Wendell K. Willard, an attorney and the chairman of the Georgia House of Representatives Judiciary Committee.
“The St. Thomas More Society is honoring Chief Justice Thompson for his leadership to ensure Georgia juries are representative of our communities and for strengthening judicial recusal rules to ensure fairness and impartiality in the judicial process,” said Baker. “Representative Wendell Willard led the successful legislative effort to reform Georgia’s juvenile justice laws, which was long overdue. These reforms will ensure that juvenile justice is administered more effectively and humanely to help Georgia’s children and families.”
Thompson, a Milledgeville resident, was appointed to the Supreme Court of Georgia in 1994. Beginning in 2003, he undertook leadership of the court’s new Jury Composition Committee to create a standard composition rule for all of the state’s counties. Previously Georgia’s counties had long used methods resulting in underrepresentation of many groups in jury pools. The Jury Composition Reform Act of 2011 makes jury service available to more eligible citizens.
Thompson also led the movement to modernize the state’s recusal rules for judges to avoid the reality or the perception of conflicts of interest.
Willard, of Sandy Springs, led the push for passage of House Bill 242 (Juvenile Justice Reform) in the 2013 legislative session. The measure seeks to help children who are truants, runaways or unruly to be considered “children in need of services” so their underlying problems may be addressed. The law also provides for improvements to community programs to help keep non-violent juvenile offenders at home and in school whenever possible. The act brings Georgia’s juvenile justice law into conformity with federal requirements.
Willard, first elected to serve in the Georgia House in 2001, is an attorney in private practice. He represents District 51.
Herrin said that a committee of the board of directors of the society reviews all nominations for the St. Thomas More Award. The committee is made up of three of the past presidents of the society. After the committee narrows the list of nominees, the board of directors then decides who will receive the honor, which is given without regard to political or religious affiliations.
The award program cited the “firmness of purpose” of both honorees.
“Each recipient has exhibited admirable resolve that is so often demanded of those who choose public service as their calling. In the spirit of our namesake, we honor them for their commitment to society and the law,” it said.
St. Thomas More is the patron of attorneys, statesmen and politicians.
The St. Thomas More Society is an organization of Catholic lawyers whose members share a common commitment to the faith and a dedication to the legal profession.