The Past Remains Our Invaluable Prologue

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The Past Remains Our Invaluable Prologue

While I have no idea who is writing “The Insider” these days, I am quite confident they know how to get in touch with me. That is why I am a bit perplexed as to why the column would question my motives (without ever expressing an opinion as to what they may be) without either citing specific evidence or, God forbid, dropping me an email to ask specific questions. So much for professional courtesy, or the “in-house” benefit of writing for the same publication.

At issue is this past weekend’s Sunday Insider column, which suggested that I may have some present-day ulterior motive for recently discussing the past sins of a now-deceased juvenile court judge.

While it is true that the rather sordid tale of the late Herbert Kernaghan was recounted by me recently on my afternoon radio show, the fact that he was the stepfather of a newly declared political candidate was about as germane as the color of the man’s car upholstery. To demonstrate how irrelevant that connection was to the discussion, I really don’t need to even mention his name here, except to say that I have no problem with his running for office. Actually if (as I suspect) my old friend and political ally Frank Spears does not run for the seat in question, Kernaghan’s stepson is the man I would like to see win the race. He is a good guy, and it has been a pleasure to know him since the days he was one of my own brother’s childhood best friends.

The Kernaghan story was brought up as an illustration as to the damn near impenetrable wall that had always been the “good old boys/girls system” created by the upper echelon of the top legal and judicial figures in the Augusta circuit. The last real manifestation of the system to which I refer was headed by now-retired Chief Judge William Fleming. While the greatest weapon he used to wield power (his reviled case assignment system ) has long been dismantled by the Georgia Supreme Court (after being called one of the worst and most corrupt systems of its kind anywhere) there are still vestiges of his influence and his cronies present today.

Before they were challenged, everyone connected to the local circuit quietly went along with the status quo, until as I recently reminded you, iconoclast conservative jurist, Judge Duncan Wheale took them all to the woodshed by making his case for change directly to the state’s highest court. In doing so, he kicked their smug asses straight to Hell, with a few of us cheering him all the way. For generations the circuit had done the wrong thing, collectively smiling in the process, because they were all afraid of pissing off Fleming. Wheale wasn’t having it, and he put his money where his mouth was. The episode grates on the nerves of the vanquished every time they are reminded of his huge victory, and their own disgraceful, pussified defeat.

According to Judge Wheale and others within the system, Kernaghan was a notorious alcoholic who late in life was suspected of drinking while he presided over cases. He was appointed as a Juvenile Court judge, protected by the “Fleming system” and the code that if you were operating in the good graces of those in charge of the “cabal” you were not to be questioned. Kernaghan’s issues were cited by me as I covered a litany of sins that went unchallenged by officers of the court who should have known better, out of fear for their legal careers, lest they offend one of the cronies.

Current Chief Judge Carlisle Overstreet was so deep in that crony system that he will never wash the stink off. Overstreet to this day refuses to do the right thing even when the right thing is sitting in front of him screaming, “DO THE RIGHT THING!” I have documented his judicial idiocy both on these pages, and with over 20 years of loud and louder broadcast oratory. Sadly, his left wing, effete sentencing continues unabated most recently with the laughably short sentence given to a six-time DUI offender who last year with his seventh DUI killed a female passenger. Michale Johnston was driving so drunk he didn’t realize his own legs were burned to a crisp when EMTs arrived on the scene. Six years in jail, four on probation, and a $1,000 fine was all Overstreet gave Johnston, who was driving with no license and no insurance when he killed Kathryn Gilmer.

I recounted the Kernaghan story as I covered the still-unresolved mess that is/was the career of court appointed Guardian-Ad-Litem Doug Nelson. The fear that kept many sworn officers of the court from actively seeking Nelson’s removal was the latest chapter in the nasty trend that shows decades of lawyers and judges failing to uphold the sanctity of the court, and the dignity of their duty to justice.

The newly announced political career of the late Kernaghan’s stepson had not a damn thing to do with it.

On a final note, I will take a few moments to answer the charge that I may not have “had my facts straight” in the above-referenced Nelson column, concerning the resignation of former Richmond County Probate Judge Isaac Jolles. His well-meaning nephew Nathan, himself an attorney, in a letter to the editor of the Spirit rejected my claim that an officer of the court did the right thing reporting the elder official, when concerns over Judge Jolles’ cognitive abilities brought his fitness to preside into question.

What I am about to relay is painful to those who love him, but it is nonetheless true. A Superior Court judge notified the Judicial Qualifications Commission with concerns about Judge Jolles’ ability to remain on the job. Rather than submit to an examination to prove his lack of impairment (due to what has been described as nothing less than dementia), Jolles took his retirement in mid-term. The reason it took a sitting judge to call the JDQ in to pursue a fitness certification is that Overstreet, as chief judge, refused to act on the matter.

So yes, the legacy of the Fleming Cabal (a term I have used for well over 10 years) continues diminished, but not vanquished, and if I have to tell the old stories (Kernaghan) to bring context to the new stories (Nelson, the continued shenanigans of Overstreet, etc.), then so be it.

Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it and, sadly, because of the lack of attention and continuing civic apathy of the ignorant, many who know better are doomed just the same.

  • dorothybaez

    I rarely agree with Austin Rhodes on much of anything. And I wish my stepbrother the best in all his endeavors. But Herbert Kernaghan was a dangerous menace on the bench and as a human being. It was my plan to campaign to have him removed from the bench once my younger son turned 18. Unfortunately, Herbert died before that could happen. My mother and I had champagne.

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