The State Bar of Georgia has a rare contested election brewing for leadership of the nearly 50,000-member mandatory professional organization.
The position at stake is secretary—actually president three years out if all goes according to the traditional succession plan. The other bar officers have no opposition to the posts they plan to step up to this year. All the terms are for one year.
That means at the bar’s annual meeting in June, President-elect Darrell Sutton of Marietta will likely become president. He will replace Court of Appeals Judge Ken Hodges of Albany, who joined the bench this month and plans to continue to serve in both roles until June. Hodges said concerns expressed about potential conflict of interest have not produced any real conflict. The only issue so far has been fundraising. He handled that by delegating to the president-elect and the past president the signing of fundraising letters, such as one asking members to contribute to legal aid.
The bar’s current treasurer, Dawn Jones of Atlanta, is unopposed for president-elect starting in June. And Elizabeth Fite of Decatur, now secretary, is unopposed to become treasurer in June. Before the annual meeting in Orlando, bar members will vote online or by paper ballot for their choice for secretary.
The contenders for secretary are both litigators who are already members of the bar’s executive committee. One is a woman from Savannah who’s a Mercer University law school graduate. The other is a man from Atlanta who’s an Emory University law school graduate.
Alphabetically, they are: Sarah “Sally” Brown Akins of Ellis Painter Ratterree & Adams; and Frank Strickland of Strickland Brockington Lewis.
Akins clerked for Judges Arthur Fudger and Marion Cummings in the Tallapoosa Judicial Circuit, then started her legal career in Atlanta with Freeman & Hawkins, the defense firm that later became known as Hawkins, Parnell & Young. After a couple of years there, she moved to Savannah, where she’s been practicing for the past 26 years.
“Working as a judicial law clerk, then at a big firm and now at a smaller firm—in different cities—gives me a unique appreciation for the issues faced by many different types of lawyers working in various parts of the state,” Akins said. “I bring geographical diversity to the officers of the State Bar of Georgia, which is extremely important.”
Akins has defended a wide variety of clients in civil litigation, including premises liability, products liability, auto accidents and professional negligence.
Akins has been a member of the state bar Board of Governors since 2010. She was appointed by the chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia to the court’s advisory committee. She is a member of the Board of Bar Examiners, appointed by the Georgia Supreme Court in 2014.
She is the immediate past president of the Georgia Defense Lawyers Association, the statewide civil defense bar. She has served as president of American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA), Southeast Georgia Chapter. And she’s a former president of the Savannah chapter of Georgia Association for Women Lawyers.
Strickland has represented higher education institutions in matters of accreditation, federal funding, tenure and discipline of faculty, staff and students. He has represented citizens in voting rights and redistricting cases. He has also represented legislators and candidates before the Georgia Government Transparency & Campaign Finance Commission. He has taught election law as an adjunct professor at Georgia State University College of Law.
President George W. Bush appointed Strickland to the board of directors of the Legal Services Corp. in Washington, the group that funds legal aid organizations across the country— including Atlanta Legal Aid and Georgia Legal Services. Strickland served as chairman of the board of the national legal services group from 2003 until 2010.
Former Georgia Govs. Sonny Perdue and Nathan Deal appointed Strickland to the Judicial Nominating Commission, the group that screens and recommends judicial candidates. Strickland served the JNC from 2003 to 2016.
Strickland is chairman of the 500-member Atlanta Lawyers Chapter of the Federalist Society. He is a past president of the Atlanta Bar Association. He has served on the State Bar of Georgia Board of Governors since 1986.
“It’s an opportunity to render a greater service to the state bar than merely being a member of the Board of Governors,” Strickland said of his decision to run for secretary. And, he said, “It’s in the category of now or never.”