Judge William Ray II – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia

Federal judges are often called upon to interpret laws and legislative history, and bring meaning to legislative ambiguities. So, it can be argued that the system benefits from judges with legislative experience.  As such, Judge William Ray, who has served as a legislator, a trial judge, and an appellate judge, brings a diverse set of experiences to the bench.

Background

William McCrary Ray II was born in Macon, GA in 1963 to a family of active Democrats (Ray’s uncle was U.S. Rep. Richard Ray).[1]  Ray’s father, a farmer, was tragically murdered in a dispute with neighbors when Ray was 13.[2]  Ray went on to the University of Georgia, graduating in 1985 with a Bachelor of Business degree, and obtaining a Masters in Business the next year.  Ray continued on to UGA Law School graduating cum laude in 1990.

After graduating, Ray joined the Lawrenceville law firm Andersen, Davidson & Tate as an Associate working in civil litigation and family law.  In 1995, he became a partner at the firm.

In 1996, Ray won election to the Georgia State Senate with 69% of the vote, representing the 48th Senate District.[3]  He served in the State Senate for six years, serving on the Judiciary, Special Judiciary, Rules, Appropriations, Natural Resources, and Transportation Committees.  During his tenure, Ray helped pass Heidi’s law, which tightened penalties for repeat DUI offenders.[4]  In an interview, Ray noted that his experience with tragedy from his father’s murder spurred a commitment to victim’s rights, and made him a “proponent of capital punishment.”[5]

In 2002, Ray was appointed by Democratic Governor Roy Barnes to serve on the Gwinnett County Superior Court.[6]  Ray served in that capacity until 2012, when Republican Governor Nathan Deal elevated Ray to the Georgia Court of Appeals.[7]  Ray currently serves as a judge on that court.

History of the Seat

The seat Ray has been nominated for opened on March 31, 2017, with Judge Harold Lloyd Murphy’s move to senior status.[8]  Ray was nominated for the vacancy on July 13, 2017.[9]

Jurisprudence – Trial Judge

Ray spent approximately ten years as a trial judge in Gwinnett County, and another five years as an appellate judge.  As a trial judge, Ray served as presiding judge of the Gwinnett County drug treatment court, a program he helped found that allows drug offenders to have their convictions stricken.[10]

In 2006, Ray was drawn into a controversy involving budget cutbacks for indigent representation.  In response to rapidly depleting funds, the Georgia public defender council cut payments to private attorneys in capital cases from $125 an hour to $95 an hour.[11]  In response, Ray ordered state officials into his courtroom and probed the state’s obligation to pay for indigent defense.[12]  Further, he ordered the chief of the public defender council to turn over payment information for another expensive death penalty case, directly conflicting with an order from Judge Hilton Fuller to keep that information secret.[13]  The controversy resulted in a temporary halt on all capital cases as the state funding system ran out of money.[14]

Among other cases, Ray presided over the initial motions in the trial of Lisa Ann Taylor, the “Mansion Madam” who allegedly ran a house of prostitution in an exclusive Atlanta community.[15]  He also presided over the guilty plea of basketball star Al-Farouq Aminu, who had shot a woman with a BB gun.[16]  Ray sentenced Aminu to three years of probation, allowing him to attend college while on probation.[17]

Jurisprudence – Court of Appeals

During his five years on the Georgia Court of Appeals, Ray has established a conservative record on criminal issues.  Notably, Ray has voted to affirm criminal convictions against both procedural[18] and substantive[19] challenges.  For example, on Fourth Amendment challenges, Ray has upheld denials of motions to suppress,[20] and reversed grants of motion to suppress based on police misconduct.[21]  In one case, the trial court found that officers did not have probable cause to conduct a blood test on a driver suspected of driving under the influence.  Ray wrote for a 4-3 majority in reversing the decision.[22]  In dissent, Judge M. Yvette Miller argued that the majority failed to apply the proper level of deference to factual findings made by the trial court.[23]

In another decision, Ray wrote for a 5-2 majority in holding that a warrant application to obtain images of child pornography was supported by probable cause.[24]  The Georgia Supreme Court unanimously reversed Ray’s decision in an opinion by Judge Harold Melton, finding that the affidavit supporting the warrant application was “rife with issues.”[25]

On civil matters, Ray’s record is more mixed.  While he has shown a willingness to rule against plaintiffs,[26] he has also, on occasion ruled in their favor.[27]  Overall, Ray’s civil record does not suggest an undue bias towards either party in civil matters.

Political Activity

As noted above, Ray served as a Republican State Senator in Georgia for six years.  His only contribution of record is from 1996, when he gave Republican Clinton M. Day $500.[28]

Overall Assessment

Ray is a judicial conservative.  As such, he is far from an ideal candidate for the federal bench, as far as Senate Democrats are concerned.  That being said, it is to be expected that a Republican Administration will nominate conservative judges.  While Ray’s record is conservative, there are no smoking guns in his record to rally opposition around.  As such, Ray should expect a relatively smooth confirmation process, and Northern Georgia residents should expect a conservative addition to the federal bench.


[1] Greg Land, Federal Bench Nominee William Ray Hailed for Fairness, ‘Farm Boy Work Ethic’, Daily Report, July 17, 2017, http://www.dailyreportonline.com/id=1202793213784/Federal-Bench-Nominee-William-Ray-Hailed-for-Fairness-FarmBoy-Work-Ethic?slreturn=20170809211213.

[2] Id.

[3] Lucy Soto, Special Section; Election ‘96: Georgia; Democrats Keep Control But GOP Gains, Atlanta Journal & Const., Nov. 6, 1996.

[4] See Land, supra n. 1.

[5] Doug Nurse, Legislator Spurred by Early Tragedy; Crime Victims Close to his Heart, Atlanta Journal & Const., Mar. 6, 1999.

[6] See Land, supra n. 1.

[7] Id.

[8] R. Robin McDonald, Approaching 90, Judge Harold Murphy to Take Senior Status, Daily Report, Jan. 6, 2017, http://www.dailyreportonline.com/id=1202776272180/Approaching-90-Judge-Harold-Murphy-To-Take-Senior-Status.

[9] Press Release, President Donald J. Trump Announces Fifth Wave of Judicial Candidates (July 13, 2017) (on file at www.whitehouse.gov/thepressoffice).

[10] George Chidi, Drug Offenders Get Second Chance, Atlanta Journal Const., Oct. 20, 2006.

[11] Bill Rankin, Lawyers for the Poor Get Pay Cut, Atlanta Journal Const., Dec. 2, 2006.

[12] George Chidi, Tight Budget Hits Capital Trials, Atlanta Journal Const., Dec. 6, 2006.

[13] Rhonda Cook, Nichols Case Stirs Judicial Standoff; One Judge Wants Financial Records that Another Sealed, Atlanta Journal Const., Feb. 27, 2007.

[14] Scott Freeman, Brian Nichols and Georgia’s Indigent Defense Crisis, Creative Loafing, Feb. 27, 2008, http://www.creativeloafing.com/news/article/13026778/brian-nichols-and-georgias-indigent-defense-crisis.

[15] George Chidi, Sex Advice from ‘Mansion Madam’, Atlanta Journal Const., Aug. 14, 2007.

[16] Curtis Bunn, Hoops Star to Plead Guilty; Aminu Likely to Receive Probation, Atlanta Journal Const., Aug. 7, 2008.

[17] Andria Simmons, Ex-Norcross Star Can Attend College While on Probation, Atlanta Journal Const., Aug. 8, 2008.

[18] See, e.g., Jackson v. State, 782 S.E.2d 691 (Ga. App. 2016) (affirming denial of motion to suppress); State v. Fedrick, 763 S.E.2d 739 (Ga. App. 2014) (rev’ing grant of motion to suppress); Talton v. State, 749 S.E.2d 18 (Ga. App. 2013) (D knowingly waived right to jury trial).

[19] See, e.g., Fitzpatrick v. State, 793 S.E.2d 446 (Ga. App. 2016); Pippen v. State, 791 S.E.2d 795 (Ga. App. 2016); State v. Reid, 770 S.E.2d 665 (Ga. App. 2015) (rev’d grant of new trial); Harris v. State, 767 S.E.2d 747 (Ga. App. 2014).

[20] See Jackson v. State, 782 S.E.2d 691 (Ga. App. 2016); Shirley v. State, 765 S.E.2d 491 (Ga. App. 2014). But see Nichols v. State, 783 S.E.2d 918 (Ga. App. 2016) (rev’ing denial of motion to suppress).

[21] See State v. Wallace, 791 S.E.2d 187 (Ga. App. 2016); State v. Hasson, 778 S.E.2d 15 (Ga. App. 2015); State v. Fedrick, 763 S.E.2d 739 (Ga. App. 2014). But see State v. Camp, 782 S.E.2d 819 (Ga. App. 2016) (affirming grant of motion to suppress).

[22] State v. Hughes, 750 S.E.2d 789 (Ga. App. 2013).

[23] See id. at 793.

[24] Shirley v. State, 765 S.E.2d 491 (Ga. App. 2014).

[25] Shirley v. State, 777 S.E.2d 444, 446 (Ga. 2015).

[26] See, e.g., I.A. Group, Ltd. Co. et al. v. RmNandco, Inc., 784 S.E.2d 823 (Ga. App. 2016) (rev’g judgment to plaintiff); Moore-Waters et al. v. Met-Test, LLC., 782 S.E.2d 848 (Ga. App. 2016) (rev’ing grant of default judgment to plaintiff); Martin et al. v. Hansen, 755 S.E.2d 892 (Ga. App. 2014) (rev’ing denial of summary judgment to defendant); Askew et al. v. Rogers, 755 S.E.2d 836 (Ga. App. 2014) (rev’ing grant of summary judgment to plaintiff); Security Real Estate Servs. Inc. v. First Bank of Dalton, 752 S.E.2d 127 (Ga. App. 2013) (rev’ing denial of summary judgment to defendant).

[27] See, e.g., Teston et al. v. Southcore Constr. Inc., 783 S.E.2d 921 (Ga. App. 2016) (rev’ing grant of default judgment to defendant); Gomez v. Innocent et al., 746 S.E.2d 645 (Ga. App. 2013) (rev’ing grant of summary judgment to defendant); Deberry v. Johnson et al., 747 S.E.2d 886 (Ga. App. 2013) (rev’ing grant of summary judgment to defendant).

[28] Center for Responsive Politics, https://www.opensecrets.org/donor-lookup/results?name=william+ray&cycle=&state=GA&zip=&employ=&cand= (last visited Sept. 10, 2017).  

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