Vic Reynolds leaving GBI for Cobb judgeship

Vic Reynolds

ATLANTA – The director of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI), Vic Reynolds, is leaving the law enforcement post for a judgeship in Cobb County, Gov. Brian Kemp announced Friday.

Reynolds, who has headed the GBI since 2019, will fill a vacancy on the Cobb Judicial Circuit Superior Court. Kemp also named Deputy Attorney General Julie Adams Jacobs to fill a second vacancy on the court.

Before taking command of the GBI, Reynolds was elected Cobb County district attorney twice. He has also served as a Floyd County police officer, as former chief magistrate judge of Cobb County and as a partner in the law firm of Berry and Reynolds.

Reynolds has been published in both local and national print. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in criminal justice from Georgia Southern University and a law degree from Georgia State College of Law.

Jacobs has been with the Georgia attorney general’s office since 2003, where she served as deputy attorney general of the Commercial Transactions and Litigation Division.

Her responsibilities included management of the financial and property interests of state government in the areas of business and finance, tax, real property, construction, and transportation.

A 2003 graduate of Emory University School of Law, Jacobs earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science from Georgia State University.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

Georgia Supreme Court hears arguments about immunizations for children in state custody

Photo credit: Scott Housley/Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

ATLANTA – The Georgia Supreme Court Thursday considered whether children in temporary custody can receive routine immunizations over their parents’ objections, though recent changes to state policy may make the case moot. 

The state Department of Human Services (DHS), which oversees child welfare and foster care, sent a June 1 memo directing employees not to seek immunizations for children in temporary custody if their parents hold sincere religious objections.

In 2021, the state removed three children from their parents’ custody because of severe physical abuse by the father.

The removal was temporary, with a plan in place to eventually reunify the family after the parents met certain requirements.

The biological parents objected to their children receiving their routine childhood vaccines. They asked the Forsyth County juvenile court to stop the state from having the children immunized, claiming religious and philosophical objections.    

The juvenile court denied that request, leading to the appeal to the Supreme Court.    

Typically, parents whose children are in custody have the right to visit their children and the right to object or consent to an adoption.    

This case considered whether parents’ rights extend further such that they could direct medical or religious aspects of their children’s lives even after the children have been removed from custody.   

“If the state is doing certain things to protect the best interests of the child that… to others may have a really important religious overlay [such as immunization]: that collision is why we’re here,” said Justice Sarah Hawkins Warren.    

While the removal from custody was only temporary, immunizations are irreversible, the lawyer for the parents, David Hume, contended.    

“Parents expect…their rights to be fully restored at end of temporary custody…and that includes the right to direct the religious upbringing of their children and the right to object to vaccinating their children,” Hume said.    

“If the children are vaccinated…over the religious objections of the parents, then that right will be lost forever,” Hume added.    

 But once children have been removed from their parents’ custody, parents retain very limited rights to decide what is in the children’s best interests, argued Stephen Petrany, the Georgia solicitor general, on behalf of the Department of Human Services, which oversees foster care.   

“The parents have been deemed unfit because their children were being abused,” Petrany said. “The parental rights, the [religious] liberty right … is dependent on their being fit parents.”

“DFCS (The Georgia Division of Family and Children Services) and the juvenile court have to go with what their view of the best interest of the child is.”  

In this case, that would be providing the children with their routine childhood immunizations, Petrany said.  

DHS Commissioner Candice Broce sent a memo to DFCS employees on June 1 directing them not to seek immunizations for any child in temporary custody if the child’s parents hold a sincere religious objection.

Likewise, DFCS cannot direct foster parents and others caring for children in custody to have their own children immunized if they hold sincere religious beliefs opposing it, the memo said.   

Petrany, the DHS lawyer, said the agency’s recent change in policy was not due to the dispute in this case. 

Thursday marked David Nahmias’s last day hearing arguments as chief justice. Nahmias will resign on July 17, and Michael Boggs will take over as chief justice.    

The court next meets to hear oral arguments on Aug. 23.  

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

State awards teacher tax credits

ATLANTA – The Georgia Department of Education has awarded the first teacher recruitment tax credits to 69 teachers from across the state.

The General Assembly voted unanimously last year to create the tax credit to incentivize teachers to ply their profession in rural and low-performing schools.

Each teacher selected for the program will receive a $3,000 credit on their state income taxes each year for five consecutive school years.

“The most important thing we can do to improve student achievement is to invest in our educators,” State School Superintendent Richard Woods said this week.

“This tax credit provides an additional way for Georgia to recruit and retain excellent teachers in our public-school classrooms.”

Eligible teachers were those recently hired to teach in a high-need subject area at one of 100 participating schools.

High-need subject areas are defined regionally by Georgia’s Regional Education Service Agencies (RESAs).

Applications for the tax credit were released in February. An additional round of applications will take place next spring.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

Georgia Power hit with second lawsuit over Plant Vogtle

ATLANTA – A second minority utility partner in the Plant Vogtle nuclear expansion is mounting an effort to cap its costs to complete the project.

The Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia (MEAG Power) has filed a lawsuit against Georgia Power in Fulton County Superior Court asserting its right to trigger a 2018 agreement freezing its capital costs in building two additional nuclear reactors at the plant south of Augusta.

MEAG Power’s action follows a suit filed by Oglethorpe Power, another minority partner in the long-delayed overbudget project.

Oglethorpe owns 30% of the Vogtle expansion project, while MEAG Power’s share is 22.7%. Georgia Power, the largest of four utility partners, holds a 45.7% ownership share. Dalton Utilities has a tiny 1.6% stake.

Under the 2018 agreement entered into by all four partners, when the project costs reach a certain point, the minority partners are allowed to reduce their ownership share in exchange for Georgia Power picking up 100% of the remaining costs to complete the project.

“MEAG Power believes that the construction cost increases and the revised cost estimates for completion have reached the increased GPC (Georgia Power Corp.) cost responsibility threshold and triggered the tender provisions under the Vogtle Units 3&4 ownership arrangements,” MEAG Power wrote in a news release dated Tuesday.

“MEAG Power also believes that the time period for exercising the tender option commenced on June 14, 2022, and continues until Aug. 7, 2022.”

Georgia Power disagrees with MEAG and Oglethorpe over the dollar amount at which the tender provision is triggered, thus the legal dispute.

The Plant Vogtle expansion has encountered multiple delays and cost overruns going back to 2009, when the state Public Service Commission approved the project.

Originally expected to be completed in 2016 and 2017, the first of the two new reactors now is due to go into service by the first quarter of next year. The second unit is to follow by the fourth quarter of 2023.

A key factor in the delays was the bankruptcy of Westinghouse Electric, originally the prime contractor hired for the project. Pandemic-delayed work slowdowns also played a role.

Originally expected to cost $14 billion, the project’s price tag has more than doubled.

The litigation will not affect the ongoing construction, testing, and completion of the nuclear expansion. According to Georgia Power, the project is 97% complete.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

Georgia Supreme Court overturns hot-car death convictions

ATLANTA – The Georgia Supreme Court reversed the conviction of Justin Ross Harris for murder and cruelty charges related to the death of his young son, Cooper, in a hot car in 2014.

Evidence improperly admitted at trial may have swayed the jury to convict Harris, the court’s majority opinion found.

That improper evidence concerned other charges Harris faced related to his behavior with a 16-year-old girl between March and June 2014.

Harris was convicted of attempt to commit sexual exploitation of a child and two counts of dissemination of harmful material to a minor for those activities.

Today’s Supreme Court ruling overturns the murder and cruelty charges related to Cooper’s death but does not overturn the convictions for the sexual crimes.

Evidence about Harris’s sexual activities could have influenced the jury to convict him on the charges related to Cooper’s death, the majority opinion found.

The state introduced hundreds of explicit text messages from Harris to young women and girls during the trial. It also showed that Harris had hired a prostitute three times.

“The state convincingly demonstrated [Harris] was a philanderer, a pervert, and even a sexual predator,” Chief Justice David Nahmias wrote in the majority opinion.

That picture of Harris’ character may have led the jurors to convict him even if they were not convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that he killed Cooper on purpose, Nahmias said.

“This evidence did little if anything to answer the key question of [Harris’] intent when he walked away from Cooper,” Nahmias said.

“It does not follow [that] because an accused person may have a bad character that he is guilty of the particular offense for which he is tried,” Nahmias noted.  

The trial court should have separated the trial for Cooper’s death from the trial for the sexual charges, the opinion said.

Once the improperly admitted evidence was removed, the evidence that Harris intentionally left his son in the car to die was “far from overwhelming,” the opinion noted.  

Three justices joined in a partial dissent written by Justice Charlie Bethel.

The evidence about Harris’ sexual activities was admissible because the state had to prove those obsessions were strong enough to make him want to kill Cooper by leaving him in a hot car, Bethel contended.

Harris was initially sentenced life in prison without parole for the death of Cooper and twelve years’ additional time in prison for the sexual crimes.

Now that the charges related to Cooper’s death have been overturned, the Cobb County district attorney will have to decide whether to retry Harris on those charges.

Though the crimes took place in Cobb County, the trial was held in Glynn County in 2016 due to difficulty finding impartial jurors in Cobb.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.