ATLANTA — A Georgia lawmaker says new evidence supports his efforts to oust the state House speaker following reports the powerful Republican repeatedly used his position to delay court proceedings for criminal defendants who are clients of his law practice.
Republican state Rep. David Clark of Buford held a news conference Wednesday with an independent researcher who says House Speaker David Ralston abused his power at a scale greater than what was previously documented in an investigation by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and WSB-TV .
Former FBI agent Derek Somerville told reporters he found that Ralston used his legislative responsibilities as justification for delaying 226 cases a total of 966 times since becoming speaker in 2010.
“I don’t see how anybody can faithfully hold the office of Speaker of the House of Representatives with this conduct in the public sector,” said Somerville, who’s now chief executive of a consulting firm for the energy industry. “It’s beyond my grasp that the State Bar in Georgia would allow anyone to practice law like this.”
Ralston dismissed Somerville’s findings in an interview with WSB-TV and WSB Radio. He also said he has never abused legislative privilege.
“I understand he is not an attorney and admittedly does not understand the legal system or the criminal justice system,” Ralston said. “I also understand they spent over an hour and they didn’t have anything critical to say about my performance as speaker. I think they just think I’m a bad lawyer.”
The initial media investigation had found Ralston asked judges to reschedule court cases at least 57 times in the past two years. Shortly afterward, the legislature approved a bill that would give judges the power to push back against requests for legislative leave, but critics remain skeptical about what they see as a weak proposal.
Somerville said his analysis showed Ralston last year only had 87 working days and three intact five-day weeks with all the leave he requested.
Somerville said he would also turn his research over to the State Bar of Georgia and state Judicial Qualifications Commission.
Clients of Ralston’s private law practice who were helped by the delays included men charged with child molestation, assault and drunken driving.
In at least one civil case Somerville found a judge held Ralston and his client in contempt and fined them thousands of dollars for failing to respond to discovery requests and ignoring attempts to communicate for more than two years.
During the legislative session, Clark introduced a resolution encouraging the speaker to resign, accusing him of “an unacceptable abuse of power.” Only nine Republicans signed on.
The lawmaker used the news conference to again call for Ralston to resign.
“David Ralston used his power as speaker to abuse the right to justice of many alleged victims,” Clark said.