House Speaker: Bipartisan Group Will Examine 'Legislative Leave' Law

Feb 25, 2019

Republican House Speaker David Ralston is forming a bipartisan group to look at changing a law he is accused of abusing.  

Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) announced he wants to examine the century-old law often referred to as 'legislative leave' that allows lawyers in the General Assembly to postpone cases while doing legislative duties. 

In an impassioned 20-minute speech from the House floor, Ralston said that it was tempting to be "defensive, angry and paranoid" after recent publicity and news reports about multiple continuances he's requested for clients accused of crimes ranging from driving under the influence to child enticement.

State law says legislators who are lawyers can postpone cases while the legislature is in session through three weeks after adjournment. An AJC investigation found Ralston filed 57 continuances for 21 cases over a two-year period, citing reasons ranging from luncheons to speeches to Republican party meetings. 

Ralston says the newspaper did not mention that 23 of his cases were completed in that time period, and says two of the more high-profile cases mentioned in reporting have had trial dates set for the spring since November, before these stories came out.

Ralston also disputes an AJC report that Ralston helped write the section of the law that specifically allows for continuances when the lawmaker's "presence elsewhere is required by his or her duties with the General Assembly."

But the longtime leader said that perception is reality, and a number of "fair-minded Georgians" have questions about the law and how it is used.

"I have an obligation not to dismiss their concerns but to be mindful that the consent of the governed is a vital block in the foundation of our government," Ralston said. "For these people, their concern for the victims in these cases, I believe, is real, and is not simply as a prop in a media hit piece or in a campaign ad."

On Friday, Rep. David Clark (R-Buford) and nine other Republicans signed a resolution calling for Ralston to resign, something Ralston said he would not do. He did, however, say he would not take on any new criminal cases until his current cases that have been repeatedly postponed come to a conclusion.

The bipartisan advisory group will examine other states' legislative leave practices and Ralston says it will be made up of lawmakers, judges, prosecutors, victim advocates and laypeople.