Mickey Mixson
Mickey Mixson ()

The Georgia Justice Project has raised $5.2 million in a three-year capital campaign to broaden its mission of defending the criminally accused and helping them reintegrate into society. The new funding has allowed the group to expand into public policy advocacy and community education on state criminal records laws.

The legal and social services nonprofit, which is marking its 25th anniversary, takes a holistic approach toward representing low-income people accused of crimes. It defends them at no charge while also helping them find jobs, housing and obtain benefits and social services assistance.

Georgia Justice Project had to lay off staff during the recession and in 2008 its employees took a pay cut, said Julie Smith, its chief operating officer and director of social services. Some of the money raised in the capital campaign allowed the group to restore salaries and add staff. “It’s made us more sustainable,” she said.

The group has an annual budget of $1.2 million and employs 13 people full time, Smith said.

Law firms, foundations, religious groups and individuals contributed to the campaign, which was co-chaired by H. Lamar “Mickey” Mixson of Bondurant, Mixson & Elmore and Ellen Brown Landers of Heidrick & Struggle. Larry Thompson, the general counsel of Pepsico, served as honorary chair. Thompson was a longtime King & Spalding partner and served as U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Georgia.

GJP receives no government funding, Smith said. The group’s primary support comes from the legal community, she said, but it has been able to secure funding from general-purpose grant-makers including the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation, the Tull Charitable Foundation and the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta. National funders such as the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Kresge Foundation also contributed.

“More and more people are understanding that helping someone get out of the criminal justice system saves us all money,” Smith said.

The capital campaign has given it funds to do public policy advocacy and hold training sessions on how to mitigate a criminal history, which can block people from employment, Smith said. More than a third of the state’s population—3.8 million Georgians—have a criminal record, according to GJP data.

GJP helped pass a bill in the 2014 legislative session that would help those with criminal offenses re-enter society. Senate Bill 365 eliminates automatic drivers’ license suspensions for some drug offenses. It also creates a Certificate of Program and Treatment Completion that allows individuals to demonstrate positive steps toward rehabilitation and offers employers liability protection.

Another new measure, House Bill 845, prohibits the online posting of mug shots and the release of the photos to websites that charge for their removal.

“We wanted to branch out into policy and education rather than limit ourselves to helping one person at a time,” Smith said. “It feels good. One of the legislative actions we had some success with changed a million records at once.”

Smith said that last year GJP represented about 75 people in criminal cases, ranging from misdemeanors to murder. Typical charges are assault, theft and drug-related. The group takes cases only in Fulton and DeKalb counties, and it assesses applicants’ commitment to making positive life changes since social services are part of the package. It does not handle domestic violence, child abuse or sex crimes.

GJP assisted another 300 people through its Coming Home Program in mitigating their criminal record so they can obtain jobs and housing. It is not possible to expunge a criminal conviction under Georgia law but the group helps people expunge arrests and charges.

The group held training sessions on the changes to Georgia’s criminal records laws and the consequences of having a criminal record for about 2,000 people, including judges, lawyers, social services workers and those with criminal histories.

The group also has renovated its building at 438 Edgewood Ave. S.E., in the Old Fourth Ward, so it can hold training there. It also upgraded its technology to offer webinars.

Savannah firm Brennan & Wasden has added a new name to the door and opened an Augusta office with three lawyers practicing medical malpractice defense. The firm has become Brennan, Wasden & Painter with the addition of James Painter, who is the managing partner of the new Augusta office. Painter joined from Hull Barrett in Augusta along with F. Michael Taylor as a partner and Amanda Lynde as an associate. That gives Brennan, Wasden & Painter 16 lawyers.

Freeman Mathis & Gary has added offices in Philadelphia, Moorestown, N.J., and Tampa with the addition of four litigators from Spector, Gadon & Rosen, based in Philadelphia. The group, which joined on April 1, is led by Jennifer Ward. She and Barry Brownstein are partners in the Philadelphia and New Jersey offices. Jeremy Rogers is a partner in Tampa. Behnam Salehi is an associate in Philadelphia and New Jersey and another associate, Meaghan Londergan, joined from Green Silverstein & Groff.

That gives Freeman Mathis eight offices after opening three California offices last year.

Damon Elmore has joined Moore Sparks as a partner. A labor and employment lawyer, Elmore was a principal of Elmore, an HR and employment law consultancy focused on start-ups and small businesses. Before that he spent a decade at Genuine Parts Co., first as an in-house lawyer and then for almost six years as the vice president of human resources for its subsidiary NAPA Rayloc.

Alicia Grahn Jones, a partner at Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton, has received the Volunteer Legal Team of the Year Award from the Georgia Asylum and Immigration Network. Jones helped a domestic violence victim and her son obtain a U-Visa. When the client was detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement during the representation, Jones helped to get her released.