By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published October 19, 2017
ATLANTA—Judges, attorneys and others who administer justice came together Thursday, Oct. 12, for the annual Red Mass at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Atlanta.
Wearing red scarves over their black judicial robes, some 50 judges led the procession into the landmark church, followed by several deacons and priests, Bishop Bernard E. Shlesinger III and Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory.
The archbishop, in his homily, called judges “servants of justice and mercy.”
The colorful Mass was the 12th such gathering for the law community, hosted annually by the St. Thomas More Society, an organization of local Catholic lawyers.
The Red Mass, celebrated each year for those working in law, dates to the early 1300s in England. The name of the Mass is drawn from the red vestments worn by the celebrant and clergy to signify the fire of the Holy Spirit. The Mass traditionally is held at the start of the judicial calendar to pray for the members of the judiciary.
Atlanta’s service was an ecumenical gathering, with Rev. Caleb Clarke III, of Eastminister Presbyterian Church, Stone Mountain, and Rev. Mark Larson, of the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, Atlanta, each reading Scripture.
Archbishop Gregory used his homily to highlight the key positions judges hold in the community and their roles in civil society.
Noting how they are called “your honor” and given great deference, the archbishop said judges are “perhaps more so than most” in need of prayer with the responsibilities they shoulder to ensure justice.
The prayers of the Mass are to ask the Holy Spirit to help those judges and lawyers to “apply the laws of our land with both impartiality and mercy,” he said. “Our nation looks to you for a wisdom and balanced opinions that safeguard us all. Our courts and its officers are a bulwark of security and wellbeing of our country itself.”
“We need you to be wise and fair, insightful and accommodating, prudent but not naive as you decide the many complex issues that manage to come before you each day,” he said.
At its luncheon at the Capital City Club afterward, the St. Thomas More Society honored two members of the legal community. The St. Thomas More Awards recognize specific actions manifesting a commitment to justice and humanity, especially in difficult circumstances.
Justice Michael Boggs, of the Supreme Court of Georgia, was recognized for his work in leading the state in criminal justice reform.
Some 52,000 prisoners are incarcerated in Georgia, which is one of the top numbers in the country. However, there are ways to prevent crime, that are less expensive with improved results, while making sure people who need to be incarcerated are behind bars, said Justice Boggs.
Reform is focused on “accountability courts” for low-risk, nonviolent offenders and at the same time, investing smartly in working with juvenile offenders to break a cycle of crime that can lead to prison, he said. These courts cost much less and produce a much better public safety return on investment, he said. Boggs has served on the state’s Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform since 2011 and has been a leader on it since 2012. He was appointed to the Supreme Court of Georgia in 2016, after serving four years on the Georgia Court of Appeals.
Justice Boggs credited Governor Nathan Deal for working on criminal justice reform in a nonpartisan way.
The second award recipient was Steven Gottlieb, executive director of the Atlanta Legal Aid Society. He was saluted for his 37 years leading the agency, which provides legal representation to people in need.
Gottlieb “models the respect that the clients deserves, teaching by his demeanor how staff and volunteers should act,” said the St. Thomas More Society. “For his commitment to making ‘equal access to justice’ a reality, through the Atlanta Legal Aid Society, we honor Steve Gottlieb with the St. Thomas More Award.”
Gottlieb said the success of the organization is built on understanding the community’s needs and responding. As the community has changed with a diversity of international residents, the organization is responding to increased need to represent young people who crossed the U.S. border illegally out of fear of gang violence in their native countries. The society is also looking into more family law, as grandparents take on the responsibility of adopting grandchildren, he said.
Gottlieb’s colleagues at the agency are passionate about their work.
He said, “I’m smart enough to let those guys and women do what they need to do—and kind of step back.”