Richardson Lynn, dean of John Marshall Law School in Atlanta, said it would have been "better" if the Georgia Bar explained why it selected a controversial judge to receive a prestigious award.
"It might erode confidence in [the Bar's Family Law Division]," said Lynn, who said it's "typical" for the Bar Association to give awards to judges and explain what they've done to deserve the honor.
The Georgia Bar has refused to explain why it honored Fulton County Judge Bensonetta Tipton Lane with the prestigious Jack P. Turner Award at a conference last month. According to the Bar's website, that award recognizes those who made outstanding contributions and achievements in the area of family law in Georgia.
Lynn said, "The Bar normally would be proud of the award and the reasons why it gave the award and it probably would not have been difficult to have listed some of the key achievements in the judge's career that led them to give this award."
When CBS Atlanta News investigative reporter Jeff Chirico asked Kelly Miles, chairwoman of the family law division, to explain why Lane was selected to receive the honor, she said it was "confidential."
Since October, CBS Atlanta News has reported on allegations that Lane was improperly influenced by her relationships with attorneys who helped her re-election campaign. A CBS Atlanta News investigation found Lane failed to disclose that John Mayoue, an attorney who represented singer Usher Raymond in a custody dispute, hosted a fundraiser for Lane that raked in 83 percent of all contributions in a key reporting period before the 2008 election. Lane shocked many by giving Usher custody of his two sons even though he travels a majority of the time.
Lane later refused to reveal whether Mayoue was an unofficial member of her campaign when opposing counsel, Lisa West, sought Lane to recuse herself from the Raymond case.
Clark Cunningham, law and ethics professor at Georgia State University, called Lane's lack of transparency "troubling" and said judicial code requires judges to avoid the appearance of impropriety. Cunningham said judges should disclose any information that could call into question their objectivity.
The 15-member executive committee of the Bar's family law division selected Lane to receive the award. Court records revealed seven of those members had or currently have cases before Lane. Ten of the members practice in Atlanta, which means it's likely they will appear in Lane's courtroom in the future.
Lynn does not think those who selected Lane did so to win favor with her.
"I know generally a lot of folks in the family law section who would be very conscientious about giving the award and wouldn't do so to someone who they generally thought would be the subject of bad publicity or bring their area of practice in ill repute," said Richardson.
According to the Bar Association website, criteria for receiving the Jack P. Turner include "a record of integrity and fairness, a commitment to assist other members of the Bar and the practice of family law and by taking the practice of family law to a higher level of increased respectability and recognition."
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