I have read with great interest the comments and writings of well-respected and talented lawyers concerning the honorable Judge Brian Rickman’s concurring opinion in Blackmon v. State (Case No. A15A1834, decided March 24, 2016). A study of this concurring opinion suggests that it was not an attack on criminal defense lawyers, of which I am one, but that this concurring opinion was a proper reminder to all of us of how critically important it is that at all times lawyers must come to court prepared, focused, motivated, energized and able to devote themselves fully to each case that they are honored to handle.
Each time that a lawyer has the great privilege of walking into a courtroom on behalf of a client, we are being watched by the bench, the bar and the public at large. In order to continue and promote the rich traditions of this precious profession, all advocates must be professional, act with integrity, be prepared and not be handicapped by emotional or mental issues that distract the advocate from complete devotion to the client and the case. Each of us has the privilege to work in the legal profession for but a short time, and we owe it to those who came before us and those who will follow in our footsteps to give our best efforts to promote integrity and respect for our great profession.
The concurring opinion by Judge Rickman stands to remind us that each case, from Municipal Court to the Supreme Court, affects the lives of many. Therefore, if we ourselves are struggling or see a lawyer who is struggling, we need to have the courage and integrity to step back and let another person assist or step up and assist a colleague.
The honorable Judge Rickman has been criticized for his concurring opinion. These criticisms belie the person and lawyer he has been for the two decades that I have had the pleasure of knowing and working with him. Prior to becoming a member of the bar, as an assistant district attorney, as a criminal defense lawyer hailing from the mountains of Georgia, and most recently as the elected district attorney in the Mountain Judicial Circuit, then-lawyer Brian Rickman did his best for his clients, was honest, ethical and fair.
Judge Rickman fits well on our appellate court because he exemplifies the characteristics of fine jurists: he is honest, hard-working, fair-minded, and has as his only mission the quest to do justice and reinforce adherence to rules and high ethical standards.
Without a doubt, it is my firm conviction that readers who have commented on this concurring opinion have hinged their opinions on a misinterpretation of the concurrence. Judge Rickman is simply reminding us all of the great place that we hold in our legal profession, our system of justice and society. This opinion in no way was meant to chill or punish any lawyer. In fact, Judge Rickman does not advocate for a punitive consequence, but rather some meaningful attempt to keep ineffective attorneys out of the criminal courtroom.
These words stand to remind us that each time we enter into a courtroom, we have a duty to defend our clients within the context of the law and in a manner befitting our dignified profession. Judges spend every day with the immeasurable pressure of deciding the rules and deciding people’s fate. It is laudable that Judge Rickman seeks to foster a dialogue on meaningful ways to improve the level of lawyering in our courts. Judge Rickman’s only agenda is to ensure that integrity and justice continue as the pillars of our profession.