Alston & Bird partner Kyle Wallace, as well as associates Andy Tuck and Jonathan Parente, were featured in a Daily Report article discussing their upcoming pro bono efforts before the Georgia Supreme Court in State v. Hargis.
In November 2012, a three-judge panel for the Georgia Court of Appeals overturned Hargis’s drug-related convictions, ordering that he receive a new trial as a result of the trial judge’s ex parte communications with a co-defendant’s attorney about Hargis being dangerous and the attorney’s concerns for her and her children’s safety if certain audio recordings were played at trial. The panel also concluded that the trial judge should have suppressed evidence recovered from the pickup truck driven by Hargis at the time of his arrest and evidence later obtained from Hargis’s home pursuant to a search warrant. The state filed a petition for writ of certiorari with the Georgia Supreme Court, and, in May, the high court agreed to hear the case. After granting the cert petition, the Supreme Court reached out to the Alston lawyers to represent Hargis on a pro bono basis because his appellate counsel had withdrawn.
In their brief on behalf of Hargis, the Alston team argued that prosecutors must rebut the presumption that Hargis was harmed by the ex parte communications. They explained that the question before the Supreme Court is a narrow one, emphasizing that the decision of the Court of Appeals does not require judges to automatically recuse every time they receive an ex parte communication. “It simply requires, at the very least, that a criminal defendant receive notice of the ex parte communication and an opportunity to respond before the trial judge tainted by such a communication presides over his trial.” As for the suppression issue, the Alston team argued that police officers obtained the evidence during an unlawful search that violated Hargis’s Fourth Amendment rights.
The Alston & Bird team will present oral argument before the Supreme Court on Monday, September 9.