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Two sets of Fulton County, Georgia, judges stepped off the bench last week and became litigators for a day. Fulton County Superior Court and State Court judges squared off Friday at the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation’s sixth annual jury trial seminar at Emory University in Atlanta. The Fulton County Superior Court judges prevailed. Representing the fictional plaintiff were Judges M. Gino Brogdon, Susan B. Forsling and Henry M. Newkirk of the Fulton County State Court. Superior Court Judges Alice D. Bonner, Bensonetta Tipton Lane and Stephanie B. Manis appeared for the fictional defense. Presiding over the fictional medical malpractice “trial,” Estate of Mary Kreski v. Baptista Medical Center, was Powell, Goldstein, Frazer & Murphy litigation partner John T. Marshall. He said attorneys would need three to five full days to try a similar case in a real court. “In real life, I’m a poor, broken-down trial lawyer,” Marshall told the audience tongue-in-cheek. He said he has been arguing in the state court for about 40 years, but he’s never appeared in front of Brogdon, Forsling or Newkirk. A legal consulting firm handpicked the nine-member jury. Throughout the trial, the jury and the audience, comprised of lawyers who received CLE credit for attending, used hand-held computers to rate the litigators’ persuasiveness. While the trial, complete with voir dire, witness cross-examination and jury instruction, was as realistic as time allowed, the judges did not hesitate to joke with one another. At one point, as Manis struggled to arrange the defense’s exhibit posters in a small space, Marshall said, “Next year, we’re going to ask the county commission to get us a bigger courtroom.” In her closing statement for the defense, Judge Bonner used an anecdote to explain proximate cause to the jury. Her next-door neighbor, she said, planted grass last spring. The neighbor fertilized and paid careful attention to the growing grass, she said, but it died because of drought conditions over the summer. Brogdon, in his closing statement for the plaintiff, said, “Well, folks, the insult continues. Ms. Kreski is now compared to sod.” The jury’s deliberations were televised in Emory’s Tull Auditorium. When a juror pulled a doctor-provided blood pressure chart out of her wallet, the audience gasped. A few judges and audience members yelled, “Mistrial!” Because of time constraints, a moderator interrupted the jury and asked them to reach a decision within the next few minutes. Six of the nine-member panel sided with the defense. The jury members returned to the auditorium, and Marshall announced the verdict. Judge Manis thanked the defense team’s malpractice coach, Dr. John T. Bonner, also Judge Bonner’s husband and an anesthesiologist at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Decatur, Ga. Judge Manis said Jane L. Sams of the Atlanta office of Cochran, Cherry, Givens, Smith & Sistrunk also advised the team. The litigation coaches for the plaintiff’s attorneys were Don C. Keenan of the Keenan law firm and Bernard Taylor of Alston & Bird, said Judge Forsling. The jury trial seminar marked the last full workday for Debra A. Segal, the AVLF’s executive director since 1989. Segal will start as a full-time pro bono attorney at Kilpatrick Stockton in January. Segal says the jury trial CLE gives the sitting judges a “chance to go back” to being litigators. “You can see how much fun they were having despite how much work they put in,” Segal said. For the audience, Segal said, it was an “opportunity to see how talented the judiciary [is]. As a CLE, it teaches them how to do it right.”

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