Georgia House Speaker David Ralston (Photo: John Disney/ALM) Georgia House Speaker David Ralston (Photo: John Disney/ALM)

Georgia House Speaker David Ralston has responded to two professional complaints lodged against him with the State Bar of Georgia by contending the grievances are “completely without merit.”

Ralston’s attorney James Balli—a member of the state Judicial Qualifications Commission—claims in a June 3 response to the complaints that “a small, disingenuous cabal” is attempting to exploit two women who filed the complaints and use bar disciplinary rules as a “procedural weapon” when “they really only care about attempting to cause political harm” to Ralston.

“This group does not care about either woman and are only seeking to further their self-interested goals and obtain media attention,” Balli said. The bar “should not allow such political nonsense to sully its disciplinary procedure.”

The complaints were filed by Jydon Carpenter-Davis and Amanda Mosher. Bar complaints are treated as confidential, and as a result, specifics  of the complaints aren’t publicly available.

A bar spokeswoman and the attorney investigating the Ralston complaints couldn’t be reached for comment.

Ralston represented defendant David Shell, who was charged with aggravated assault after an attack on Carpenter-Davis, according to an extensive report of Ralston’s cases by the Journal-Constitution. Four years after Shell’s indictment, the case against him had still not been adjudicated, and he remained free on bond, the AJC reported. Shell told the newspaper he paid Ralston a $20,000 retainer fee because Ralston was House speaker and continuously postponed court dates and hearings because of legislative business.

Mosher’s husband and 4-year-old daughter were killed in a 2005 crash, according to Ralston’s response. The speaker represented the man charged with vehicular homicide in their deaths. But delays stemming at least in part from Ralston’s claims of legislative duties postponed adjudication of the case for four years before Ralston cut a plea deal for his client that included a year of probation and a $1,000 fine, according to the AJC and Ralston’s response to Mosher’s bar complaint.

Read the filing:

The AJC’s examination of Ralston’s cases and his continual use of a state law allowing him to postpone court dates without penalty in deference to his legislative duties raised questions about whether he was misusing his public office to benefit his private law practice. The Georgia General Assembly traditionally is in session for only three months a year. But Ralston has said repeatedly that his duties as House speaker keep him busy with legislative duties year-round.

In April, state Rep. David Clark, R-Buford, and former FBI agent Derek Somerville accused Ralston of abusing his power by using claims of legislative duties to justify 996 instances in which he secured delays in 226 cases since he became speaker in 2010. At a news conference, Somerville promised to turn over his research on Ralston’s delays to the bar. Clark has called on Ralston to resign—which Ralston has refused to do.

According to Balli, both bar complaints claim the Georgia General Assembly’s legislative leave policy were the sole reason the prosecutions of Ralston’s clients were delayed—claims that Balli argued are false.

Balli said Ralston “never improperly used legislative leave.”

But the lawyer said Ralston does “properly exercise legislative leave” when performing duties as House speaker that include attending meetings, fundraisers, political dinners, tours of state or local facilities or other events that, “but for the fact he is Speaker of the House, he would not attend.”

Balli also said that, while the bar complaints speculate that Ralston had no valid reason to invoke legislative leave in their cases, legislative leave is by law “solely within the discretion” of a state legislator. “Even if a non-lawyer disagrees with that purpose or wildly speculates about the reason, his basis for doing so is not subject to review by any court or the State Bar,” Balli contended.

Balli also said that in the Appalachian Judicial Circuit, where Ralston’s practice is based, there are three superior court judges who together handle more than 2,000 cases a year but convene only two weeks a year for criminal trials.

“Delay occurs, but it is due to the caseload, not Mr. Ralston,” Balli said.

Balli also contended that Carpenter-Davis’ complaint, “however misguided, was based on misconceived delays she alleged were caused by Mr. Ralston’s representation” and relied on the credibility of statements about Ralston’s representation made by the man facing a felony charge of assaulting her.

Balli also said that, while Ralston represented Davis-Carpenter’s ex-fiance, he only used legislative leave to postpone a possible trial twice.

Balli contended that Mosher filed a nearly identical bar complaint against Ralston in 2013, which was dismissed in 2014.

He also blamed the circuit’s former district attorney—not Ralston—for a nearly four-year delay in prosecuting the driver who struck Mosher’s car.

Balli claimed that Ralston would identify in advance the weeks he would be unavailable to litigate the case, and the DA’s office “would then expressly set the case for a week Mr. Ralston had identified as being one that was unavailable.”

Balli also blamed Mosher, who was driving the family car when the crash occurred, saying the Georgia State Patrol had determined it was “merely a tragic accident caused, in part, by Ms. Mosher choosing to leave a parking lot and drive an unsafe and malfunctioning vehicle at less than 25 mph on a highway with a 65 mph speed limit.”

Balli conceded that Mosher was never cited for a traffic violation or charged in connection with the crash.

The lawyer said Ralston’s client eventually agreed to pay a fine and enter a misdemeanor plea, “not because he was guilty but because he did not want Ms. Mosher to have to endure a trial, apparently recognizing all the horror and heartache which comes with reliving this very tragic accident,” Balli said.

“Mr. Ralston’s correct and proper use of legislative leave is not what delayed ‘justice,’” Balli argued. Ralston’s client “was not a criminal who ‘murdered’ Ms. Mosher’s family, and … could likely have been acquitted,” he added.