Political Notes: The session’s over, now on to other things

[private]The Legislature’s constitutionally mandated 40-day session ended early Friday morning on a traditional note, as lawmakers and the governor’s aides slipped through one last tax break for a major corporate entity (in this case, Mercedes-Benz USA).

With the General Assembly session gaveled to an end, legislators can now turn their attention back to other concerns in the real world.

For two lawmakers from DeKalb County, their immediate future could involve major upgrades in their job titles.

Rep. Mike Jacobs (R-Brookhaven) is widely rumored to be at the top of the list for a vacant DeKalb County judgeship and could be appointed to that position by Gov. Nathan Deal within the next month.

That appointment, if it happens, would come at a most opportune time for Jacobs, a Democrat who later switched to the Republican side.

Jacobs helped blow up the religious freedom bill this year by adding non-discrimination language to the measure when it was before the House Judiciary Committee.

His action was applauded by those who believed the bill would be used as legal cover to discriminate against gays and lesbians, but it also left him being angrily reviled by the conservative Christian wing of the Republican Party. A judgeship would give Jacobs an easy glide path out of that controversy.

Another DeKalb legislator, Rep. Scott Holcomb (D-Atlanta), is interested in being appointed the permanent replacement for Sally Yates as U.S. Attorney for the northern district of Georgia.

An attorney and Army veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, Holcomb was first elected to the House in 2010 from a very competitive DeKalb district.

Holcomb has already talked to Sen. Johnny Isakson about the federal prosecutor’s position. That appointment, if it comes to pass, would be helpful to Isakson as well – he’s planning to run for another term in the Senate in 2016 and Holcomb has been mentioned as a possible Democratic candidate in that race.

Federal judge dismisses lawsuit against Rayonier

U.S. District Judge Lisa Godbey Wood has dismissed a lawsuit filed by several environmental groups against Rayonier over wastewater discharges into the Altamaha River from a Rayonier Performance Fibers plant in Jesup.

Wood said the mill’s discharges into the river complied with the water quality permit issued by the state Environmental Protection Division (EPD).

“Rayonier’s discharges may, in fact, violate Georgia’s narrative water quality standards,” Wood ruled, but added that the Altamaha Riverkeeper did not show that compliance with the water standards was a condition of the permit.

“The ruling constitutes a basis for petitioning the Georgia Environmental Protection Division to incorporate Georgia’s water quality standards for color, odor, and turbidity into the permit,” said Hutton Brown, at attorney with GreenLaw.

Two presidents headed out the door

Two of Georgia’s public college presidents were sent packing this week.

On successive days, the University System announced that Ivelaw Griffith, the president of Fort Valley State University, and William McKinney, the head of Valdosta State University, will “step down” as presidents at the end of the current fiscal year.

Both men were picked by Chancellor Hank Huckaby for their academic postings – McKinney in 2012 and Griffith in 2013 – and both received tepid, pro-forma praise from Huckaby in the official announcements of their upcoming departures.

GWCC official pleads out

Patrick Jackson, formerly the janitorial services manager for the DeKalb County Government and Georgia World Congress Center (GWCC), pleaded guilty this week to federal charges of conspiracy to commit honest services fraud.

Prosecutors said Jackson simultaneously worked for DeKalb County and the GWCC from 2006 through 2012, serving as the manager of janitorial services for both entities without the knowledge of either entity. Jackson was accused of using his official position to obtain favors from an unnamed company that provided janitorial services to both DeKalb County and GWCC.

“Jackson abused his position as a public official by accepting a bribe in exchange for helping a company attain and maintain government contracts at both the Georgia World Congress Center and DeKalb County,” said Acting U.S. Attorney John A. Horn.

$150 million verdict in Jeep fire trial

A Decatur County Superior Court jury in Bainbridge returned a $150 million verdict Thursday in a damage lawsuit filed by the parents of Remington Cole Walden, who died after the 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee in which he was riding exploded in flames following a rear-end collision that ruptured the gas tank.

The jury found that Chrysler had acted with a “reckless or wanton disregard for human life” and that the automaker “had a duty to warn and failed to warn of a hazard associated” with the Jeep. The jury returned a verdict for $30 million for Walden’s pain and suffering, and for $120 million for the full value of his life.

The lawsuit was filed by Walden’s parents, Lindsay Newsome Strickland and James Bryan Walden.

“They are very pleased with the verdict and hope it will help people realize the dangers posed by these rear gas tank Jeeps,” said their attorney, Jim Butler.

© 2015 by The Georgia Report

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Tags: Greenlaw , Jim Butler , Mike Jacobs , pollution lawsuit , Rayonier , Scott Holcomb , University System