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).  

Michael Lawrence Brown – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia

Third time’s the charm?  After two different Obama nominees were blocked from filling this Atlanta-based judgeship, the Trump Administration has put its hopes on a prominent white collar defense attorney: Michael Lawrence Brown.

Background

Brown has close ties to Atlanta, having grown up there and attended the Marist school, an independent Catholic prep school.[1]  After getting an B.A. from Georgetown University in 1991, Brown attended the University of Georgia Law School, graduating in the Top 10% in 1994.  Following his graduation, Brown clerked for Judge J.L. Edmondson on the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.

After his clerkship, Brown joined the Atlanta office of King & Spalding, LLC., coinciding with another Trump judicial nominee, Claria Horn Boom.  Brown spent four years at the firm, leaving in 1999 to join the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida.

In 2002, Brown was hired by then-U.S. Attorney William Duffey to be a federal prosecutor in the Northern District of Georgia.  He served in this role until 2005, when he moved to the Atlanta office of Alston & Bird.  He currently serves as a partner and the co-leader of the firm’s Government & Internal Investigations Team.

History of the Seat

Brown has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.  This seat was vacated on July 31, 2014, when Judge Julie Carnes was elevated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.  Twice, President Obama attempted unsuccessfully to fill this seat.  His first nominee was then-Georgia Court of Appeals judge (and current Georgia Supreme Court Justice) Michael Boggs.[2]  Boggs, a conservative Democrat, was part of a six judge package negotiated between the White House and Georgia’s Republican senators.  Unfortunately, while Boggs received a hearing with the other nominees from the package, he faced strong opposition from progressive groups, who objected to stances he had taken as a state senator.[3]  Ultimately, the Senate Judiciary Committee did not process Boggs’ nomination, and the White House abandoned the nomination.[4]

Facing a Republican-controlled Judiciary Committee, Obama nominated Judge Dax Eric Lopez of the State Court of Dekalb County on July 30, 2015.[5]  However, Lopez, a Latino Republican, drew sharp opposition from some Georgia conservatives for his participation in the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, a nonpartisan civic organization.[6]  Ultimately, Lopez’s nomination was blocked by Sen. David Perdue (R-GA), who declined to return his blue slip.[7]

President Trump declined to renominate Lopez, instead nominating Brown on July 13, 2017.

Legal Experience

Brown began his legal career as a clerk for Judge J.L. Edmondson on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.  He followed this up by joining the Atlanta office of King & Spalding as an associate.  During his time there, Brown was part of a legal team representing a holding company in a legal malpractice action against its former attorneys.[8]  Brown also defended a furniture manufacturer against antitrust liability,[9] and served as court appointed counsel in a Bivens action against federal agents.[10]

In 1999, Brown moved to Florida to serve as an Assistant United States Attorney (AUSA).  In 2002, he moved back to Atlanta to work as an AUSA in the Northern District of Georgia.  In this role, he was part of the legal team prosecuting Baltimore Ravens running back Jamal Lewis for drug charges in 2004.[11]  This case also drew criticism for Brown, as U.S. District Judge Orinda Evans found the charges “weak.”[12]  The felony charges were ultimately plead down to a single charge of using a cellphone to help facilitate a drug deal.[13]

In 2004, Brown moved to the Atlanta office of Alston & Bird, where he currently serves.  In that role, Brown developed a reputation for the vigorous defense of defendants accused of white-collar and corruption crimes.[14]  Notably, Brown represented Crawford Lewis, a former DeKalb County School Superintendent charged with public corruption and racketeering.[15]  Brown helped secure a probationary sentence for Lewis, who was facing up to 65 years in jail, in exchange for testimony against his co-defendants.[16]  When Judge Cynthia Becker, who was unimpressed with the deal, sentenced Lewis to prison anyway, Brown “flooded Becker’s office with calls and emails asking for bond.”[17]  The Georgia Court of Appeals eventually granted the bond request and Becker was struck from the bench for her conduct in the case.

Brown also represented Tyler Peters, a bond trader who was ultimately acquited of conspiracy, securities fraud and wire fraud charges.[18]  Brown has also handled antitrust matters including representing automobile safety manufacturer Autoliv Inc.

Political Activity

Brown has been fairly active as a political donor, having contributed to former Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss and current Senator David Perdue.[19]  In 2012, Brown contributed a total of $3600 to Mitt Romney’s presidential candidacy.  More recently, Brown contributed $1000 to the Right to Rise PAC, which supported the presidential campaign of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.  While most of Brown’s contributions have been to Republicans, his most recent contribution was $250 to California Senator Kamala Harris.

In 2012, Brown was one of two non-jurists to be included on Gov. Nathan Deal’s list of finalists for a Georgia Supreme Court vacancy.  Deal ultimately chose Georgia Court of Appeals judge Keith Blackwell.

Overall Assessment

As an appellate clerk, a former federal prosecutor, and a law firm partner, Brown is well-qualified to serve as a federal judge.  Having served as a prosecutor and a defense attorney, Brown has the experience to gauge both sides of a criminal case.  At any rate, Brown lacks the baggage that brought down both the Boggs and Lopez nominations.  As such, as a candidate who supported both David Perdue and Kamala Harris, Brown will likely be confirmed comfortably.


[1] R. Robin McDonald, Alston & Bird Partner Brown’s Path to the Georgia Federal Court Bench, Daily Report, July 18, 2017, http://www.dailyreportonline.com/id=1202793307311/Alston-amp-Bird-Partner-Browns-Path-to-the-Georgia-Federal-Court-Bench?slreturn=20170709231611.

[2] Press Release, White House, President Obama Nominates Eight to Serve on the United States District Courts (Dec. 19, 2013) (on file at https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov).  

[3] See Humberto Sanchez, Next Nasty Nomination Fight for Obama: Michael Boggs on the Hot Seat, RollCall, March 10, 2014, http://www.rollcall.com/news/home/debo-adegbile-defeat-emboldens-michael-boggs-opponents.

[4] Burgess Everett, Obama Abandons Judicial Nomination, Politico, Dec. 31, 2014, http://www.politico.com/story/2014/12/president-obama-abandon-michael-boggs-nomination-113898.

[5] Press Release, White House, President Obama Nominates Seven to Serve on the United States District Courts (July 30, 2015) (on file at https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov).  

[6] See Greg Bluestein, Johnny Isakson Says Dax Lopez Deserves a Hearing: ‘I Believe in the Constitution’, The Atlanta Journal Constitution, Jan. 11, 2016, http://politics.blog.ajc.com/2016/01/11/johnny-isakson-says-dax-lopez-deserves-a-hearing-i-believe-in-the-constitution/.

[7] Seung Min Kim, Republican Senator Sinks GOP Judge’s Nomination, Politico, Feb. 2, 2016, http://www.politico.com/story/2016/02/dax-lopez-federal-judge-appointment-david-perdue-218460.

[8] Hunter, MacLean, Exley & Dunn, P.C. v. Frame et al., 507 S.E.2d 411 (Ga. 1998).

[9] Rockholdt Furniture Inc. v. Kincaid Furniture Co., Inc.; Rhodes Furniture Co., 1999 U.S. App. LEXIS 22426 (6th Cir., Sept. 10, 1999).

[10] Uboh v. Reno, 141 F.3d 1000 (11th Cir. 1998).

[11] George Henry, Lewis Pleads Not Guilty to Drug Charges; No Trial Date Established for Ravens Running Back, Wash. Post, Feb. 27, 2004.

[12] See supra n. 1.

[13] See id.

[14] See id.

[15] See id.

[16] Maghen Moore, DeKalb Judge Becker Gobbled Up in Corruption Investigation, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Aug. 26, 2015, http://www.myajc.com/news/local/they-wanted-head-the-wall-judge-becker-says/A8Vq5qrwcasZvFBlP26CLI/.

[17] Id.

[18] Press Release, Alston & Bird, Former Nomura Bond Trader Wins Jury Acquittal on Securities & Wire Fraud Charges (June 20, 2017) (on file at https://www.alston.com/en/insights/news/2017/06/former-nomura-bond-trader-wins-jury-acquittal).