Welcome

Betts & Associates is committed to providing each of our clients with top quality legal representation and achieving successful outcomes for their cases. We specialize in representing individuals and businesses in all areas of complex civil litigation matters. Our firm provides legal services with skill, strength, and integrity to residents all over the state of Georgia.

Betts and Associates offer a wide range of skills in almost all areas of the legal practice. Our commitment to growing a wide range of more discrete practice areas allows us to better assess client needs and provide prompt and effective legal solutions. Our firm was founded on the belief in providing personal service and valuable legal counsel that addresses our client's needs creatively. After a decade, that has not changed. We ensure that every client's case is carefully handled every step of the way.

If you need advice about the best way to approach and resolve your case, consider Betts & Associates. To request a legal consultation, contact our office at 404-577-8888 to schedule an appointment. We are proud to provide personal service and practical solutions for those with even the most complex legal concerns.

September 19, 2012

Employers Demanding Employees to Undergo Psychiatric Counseling Violates Federal Discrimination Laws

The Americans With Disabilities Act (the "ADA") and the Americans With Disabilities Act Amendments Act ("ADAAA") give protections for certain "qualified individuals" and ensures that they do not suffer job discrimination because of results of a disability or perceived disability.
The ADA also prohibits disability harassment and retaliation against you for complaining about disability discrimination or for participating in someone else's disability discrimination case.
However, not all injuries, illnesses or even medically defined disabilities are covered by the ADA and the ADAAA. The ADA projects a specific class of individuals--qualified individuals with a disability. A qualified individual with a disability is an individual with any medical, physiological, or psychiatric condition that substantially limits a major life activity. If you have questions about whether you are covered by the ADA/ADAAA it's a good idea to meet with an attorney at Betts & Associates to discuss your matter.
The ADA/ADAAA gives protections, including prohibiting employers from requiring employees undergo medical exams to determine "whether such employee is an individual with a disability or as to the nature or severity of the disability, unless such examination or inquiry is shown to be job-related and consistent with business necessity."
The court turns to the EEOC for guidance, which defines "medical examination" as a "procedure or test that seeks information about an individual's physical or mental impairments or health" and provides seven factors for assessing whether a test amounts to a "medical examination." Those factors include whether the test is administered by a health care professional, is interpreted by such a professional, is aimed to reveal a physical or mental health impairment, is invasive, measures an employee's performance of a task or physiological responses to such performance, is typically given in a medical setting, or involves medical equipment.
A single factor "may be enough" to find that a test is medical.
Based on an analysis looking at all of these factors, the court found that it was possible a jury could determine the agency violated Kroll's rights.
For more information about the ADA/ADAAA or if you feel you may have been discriminated against based on a disability, please contact the top Georgia disability attorneys at Betts & Associates for an immediate consultation.

September 17, 2012

Arizona Judge Upholds "show-your-papers" measure in mixed ruling

Reuters) - On Wednesday a U.S. judge ruled that a controversial Arizona "show-your-papers" immigration provision that has been upheld by the Supreme Court may go into effect, but in a split ruling blocked another measure making it a crime to harbor illegal immigrants.

The measure that was upheld, part of a broader law to combat illegal immigration in the state bordering Mexico, home to an estimated 360,000 undocumented immigrants, requires police to check the immigration status of people they stop and suspect are in the country illegally.

In allowing that measure to proceed, District Court Judge Susan Bolton ruled the law's challengers had failed to show they were likely to prevail on the merits of the case, but noted that the top court had left open the possibility of contesting the provision "after it goes into effect."

In a mixed ruling, Bolton also issued a preliminary injunction blocking a part of the state law, known as SB 1070, that made it a crime to transport, shield or harbor an illegal immigrant within Arizona's borders.

Arizona Republican Governor Jan Brewer, a major White House foe in the battle over illegal immigration, signed the state crackdown on illegal immigrants into law in April 2010, complaining that the federal government had failed to secure the state's border with Mexico.

Brewer welcomed the ruling, which she said brought Arizona "one big step closer to implementing the core provision of SB 1070."

"With this provision, Arizona makes a clear statement that it will not tolerate sanctuary city policies, and will now have thousands of additional officers to collaborate with the federal government as state and local law enforcement do what they always have: enforce the law," she said in a statement.

OPPONENTS TO DOCUMENT RACIAL PROFILING

The administration of President Barack Obama challenged Arizona's tough immigration law in court two years ago, saying the U.S. Constitution gives the federal government sole authority over immigration policy.

Opponents of the law also decried it as a mandate for the racial profiling of Hispanics, who make up nearly a third of Arizona's population of 6.5 million people.

Alessandra Soler, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, which was among the plaintiffs in the lawsuit seeking to block the provision, said the group would focus on documenting and litigating any instances of racial profiling once the provision is implemented.

"The ACLU of Arizona will act on the court's message and document racial profiling abuses throughout the state as the first step to guaranteeing equal treatment under the law," Soler said in a statement.

"Once this 'show-me-your-papers' provision goes into effect, racial profiling will become rampant statewide ... We intend to ramp up our reporting and litigation efforts to seek justice on behalf of the victims of police abuse," she added.

The June Supreme Court ruling on upholding the controversial measure also struck down three other provisions of the law including one requiring immigrants to carry immigration papers at all times, another banning illegal immigrants from soliciting work in public places and one allowing police arrests of immigrants without warrants under some circumstances.

The provision that was upheld still cannot be implemented until Bolton formally removes a block she placed on the law two years ago. That is expected to take at least 10 calendar days.

The Supreme Court ruling was referred back to Bolton, who originally enjoined sections of the law before it took effect in July 2010.

September 15, 2012

Deferred Action: Too Much Is Riding on It to Go It Alone in Georgia

The first 29 Deferred Action applications have been approved by the federal government, according this report in the Atlanta Journal and Constitution.

The article also says that over 82,000 people have already applied for this new immigration status. It profiles one such eligible man, named Lionel Jimenez, who is only 19. According to the report, after getting the help of an attorney, "He planned to go home and type up his application again, draft a table of contents for it and turn the whole thing into something like a book. He wants it perfect. Too much is riding on it."

Betts and Associates agrees with Mr. Jimenez. Too much is riding on Deferred Action for thousands of residents in Georgia to do fill out the application alone. Betts and Associates is committing to helping you create as perfect an application as possible when you file for Deferred Action.

Georgia Residents:

For $250, Betts and Associates will advise you on how to gather the necessary documents and proof, fill out the paperwork, update you on your status, and represent you at one administrative hearing or meeting if such a meeting is ever required in your case. Meetings can me scheduled in the firm's Rome or Atlanta office.

There may be additional filing costs that will be the responsibility of the client. More information on those fees will be known once the federal government creates the documents. Also, it will be the client's responsibility to acquire and pay for any official documents. If the client wishes help in acquiring documents, Betts and Associates will charge an additional fee.

Out-of-State Clients:

For $250, Betts and Associates will advise you on how to gather the necessary documents and proof, fill out the paperwork, update you on your status, and help you to find an attorney if you were to need in-person representation in your case.

There may be additional filing costs that will be the responsibility of the client. More information on those fees will be known once the federal government creates the documents. Also, it will be the client's responsibility to acquire and pay for any official documents. If the client wishes help in acquiring documents, Betts and Associates will charge an additional fee.

If you would like to hire Betts and Associates to handle your case, please call 404-577-8888, email sherellemckinley@bettslaw.net or submit a short form on this website. For quickest attention put "Immigration" in the subject heading. We look forward to working with you.

September 12, 2012

Can Men File Sexual Harrassment Lawsuits in Georgia Too?

Today the Atlanta Journal and Constitution reported that

"A former Chattahoochee Hills police lieutenant has filed a federal lawsuit against the...city, saying he was sexually harassed by the former city manager and then unfairly fired by the former police chief. The suit by James Melton accuses former City Manager Carol Wolfe of making repeated and unprovoked sexual advances toward him when he worked under her supervision.Melton also contends former Police Chief Damon Jones terminated him in September 2010 for refusing to lie in another police agency's investigation of Jones in an unrelated case....

According to the suit, between December 2009 and September 2010, Wolfe approached Melton sexually in both professional and out-of-work settings and at one point invited him to stay with her in a room she had rented at Serenbe Farm House.
Melton repeatedly rebuffed Wolfe's advances, however, acknowledging her position as Jones' supervisor, and therefore Melton's superior. "It was inappropriate because that was my boss, and that would've been crossing the line," Melton told Channel 2 Action News."


The outcome of this case is months, if not years, away, but no one should be the victim of unwanted sexual attention, men or women.

Typically women are thought to be the ones suffering from sexual harassment in the workplace. And it is true that the vast majority of sexual harassment lawsuits are brought my women. But the laws protecting people from sexual harassment in the workplace are not gender specific.

Although numbers of actual filings of sexual harassment files are going down (possibly a sign of a better educated, more diverse workplace throughout the United States) the percentage of those filings by men has gone up. In 2011, 16.3% of all EEOC cases were filed by men.

As long as the following guidelines are true in a particular case then it can be deemed Sexual Harassment:

  • It is unlawful to harass a person (an applicant or employee) because of that person's sex. Harassment can include "sexual harassment" or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.
  • Harassment does not have to be of a sexual nature, however, and can include offensive remarks about a person's sex. For example, it is illegal to harass a woman by making offensive comments about women in general.
  • Both victim and the harasser can be either a woman or a man, and the victim and harasser can be the same sex.
  • Although the law doesn't prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not very serious, harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted).
  • The harasser can be the victim's supervisor, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or someone who is not an employee of the employer, such as a client or customer.
  • http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/sexual_harassment.cfm

If you think you have been the victim of sexual harassment in the workplace, you may wish to contact Betts and Associates.

September 6, 2012

Undocumented Students Barred from Public University in Georgia, But for How Long?

President Obama's new Deferred Action for undocumented or illegal immigrant children is now in effect. On August immigration offices began accepting applications for the new procedure. But, there are many questions that are still up in the air. One that presses on many young adults is "What will this mean for applicants to the University of Georgia?"

In October 2010, the State Board of Regents voted to ban illegal immigrants from attending the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, Georgia State University, Medical College of Georgia and Georgia College.This was before the Obama Administration created the Deferred Action Program. Now, with this new pathway to residency, it is an open question as to whether those who qualify for deferred action can apply for and be admitted to one of those five institutions.

According to Georgia Public Broadcasting News, in the eyes of Georgia's Regents Board, deferred action will not change a student's status from illegal to legal. They report that, "University System of Georgia officials say President Obama's immigration order in June doesn't change anything for undocumented students now barred from the state's top colleges...Board of Regents spokesman John Millsaps says the university ban follows state law. And he says Obama's order doesn't change state law. 'The decision of the administration does not change lawful status in Georgia," he said in an interview. "You know, whatever the state law is that affects us, then we have to make sure our policies are in compliance with it.'"

But, there are many who say that what Obama did was actual transform those students from "illegal" to "legal." According to same article, "the ACLU's Azadeh Shahshahani says the Board of Regents needs to reassess how it treats these students, regardless of the ban.'Individuals granted deferred action should be able to attend all colleges and universities -- even the top five -- because they are granted deferred action, and because deferred action per federal law is considered lawfully present,'she said."

There has been no case test on whether the ban applies to this newly created status. To counteract the ban, in 2011 four professors at the University of Georgia created something they call "Freedom University." They state their mission as "Freedom University is a volunteer-driven organization that provides rigorous, college-level instruction to all academically qualified students regardless of their immigration status. Our faculty are fully committed to providing our students with college courses equivalent to those taught at the state's most selective universities. We believe that all Georgians have an equal right to a quality education. Separate and unequal access to higher education contravenes this country's most cherished principles of equality and justice for all."

But Freedom University cannot confer degrees and is no solution to the real problem of access and disparate treatment to the Georgia University System. Thankfully the ban does not apply to all Georgia colleges and universities. However, undocumented students must pay out of state tuition, even if they graduated from the Georgia high school.

If you are interested in applying for deferred action and wish the help of a lawyer, you can read about what Betts and Associates would do for you here.

September 2, 2012

Fired Because of Facebook? Under What Conditions Can You Sue Successfully

Recently a federal law suit was filled by Orlando "O.J." Concepcion. He was fired from his job with the Sandy Springs Police Office because of posts that he made on his personal Facebook page. He alleges that his termination was wrongful because he has a right to make private statements as a private citizen. Moreover, he claims that the termination was racially motivated because other officers were posting similar material and received no punishment or consequence. Mr. Concepcion is Hispanic and his fellow officers are White.

Termination for posts on Facebook is in the news a lot, but it is new territory for the courts. In the age of instant computer searches and the ability to capture communication with screen shots, employers are able to learn and document a lot about your out of work behavior. Whether this information is legal as grounds for termination is something that courts are still trying to address.

The ACLU believes that it should all be illegal. Debbie Seagraves, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, has stated "You have a right to be bawdy and raucous in your private space. You have a right, but I'm going to be watching, and I don't like what you've posted, and I'm going to use that in employment decisions' -- that's (a) pretty clear (violation)."

However, this viewpoint is certainly not the legal reality. In Georgia and elsewhere in the country, employees are typically "at will" which means that they can be fired for any reason at all, as long as that reason is not discriminatory. A Texas law firm states it this way: "Many employees think that they are protected by "freedom of speech" found in the First Amendment to the Constitution. This may be true if your employer is a government agency, however, the first amendment does not otherwise apply to non-government employers. If you work for a big corporation or a small company, they CAN fire you if you criticize them on Facebook or elsewhere. The reason for this is that most states have "employment at will" which allows an employer to fire employees at any time for any reason, or no reason at all. Facebook postings are NOT protected speech under the First Amendment when it concerns a job with a non-government employer."

But there are some significant exceptions to at will employment and the right of employers to fire for Facebook or other social media posts.

  • If you were discussing union activity or organizing on your Facebook page, your employer cannot fire you for that. Your right to unionize is protected by the Constitution, as well as the the National Labor Relations Act (also known as the NLRA or the "Wagner Act", which gives private sector workers the right to choose whether they wish to be represented by a union.)
  • If you were complaining to other coworkers about work conditions and other matters that are specifically related to your workplace treatment those discussion cannot be grounds for termination because they are considered "concerted activity." Non-unionized workers are protected by this law, as well as unionized workers.
  • If you were talking about things that relate to your race, sex, disability, religion or ethnicity.
  • If you work for the government,you have greater protection of your first amendment rights than if you work for a private employer, but there are small exceptions to that too.

In the case of Mr. Concepcion, he was working for the government at the time of his employment and he also alleges that his firing was arbitrary and targeted because of his race. Those are two exception to the general right of employment at will and are the bases of his lawsuit. If you have been terminated and believe that it was unlawful, the lawyers at Betts and Associates would be willing to talk to you. Please contact the office for an appointment.

August 30, 2012

Georgia Employees, Stop Working Overtime for Nothing. You May Have a Claim Against your Employer.

Record numbers of overtime complaints - filed by workers based on violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) - are at an all time high. According to the FLSA, non-exempt workers are entitled to overtime wages in the amount of one and one-half times their regular rate of pay for each hour worked over 40 hours in any one workweek. The problem is many workers who are entitled to overtime compensation are denied all of the pay they are entitled to - often due to their employer misclassifying them, either intentionally or mistakenly.
A common occurrence is misclassification when determining who is exempt and who non-exempt. It is a close call almost always. In many people's case, being entitled to overtime pay can make a huge difference in his or her weekly take home pay. If there is a possibility that you could you may be entitled to additional compensation for overtime pay, it is absolutely necessary to consult with a top Georgia overtime pay attorney like Betts & Associates. The recent overtime pay article states that the number of FLSA cases has tripled, with over 7000 overtime violation lawsuits filed in 2011. In 2012 over 7064 cases have already been filed, making this year record breaking for certain. Confusion concerning overtime laws is why there are so many lawsuits and a struggling economy has more employers cutting corners than ever. Overtime violations hit low-wage workers even harder. The National Employment Law Project created a study stating, 77% of low-wage workers who reported working more than 40 hours in a week did not receive the overtime compensation they were entitled to. For workers who put in more than 10 hours a day, 93% of workers reported not receiving the required overtime pay. Overtime violations were not the only FLSA law broken, 21% of workers reported making less than the required minimum wage. According to the study, the average low pay employee loses out on $58 per week and $3,000 per year due to wage violations by employers. The federal government fortunately has started cracking down on employer wage violations. The Department of Labor is focusing on industries like: restaurants, hospitality, janitorial, health care and day care -- where wage theft is believed to be run ramped. Over $224 million has been collected by the Department of Labor in the last fiscal year in back wages for more than 275,000 workers.
If you believe you have not received all the compensation you are entitled to, it's important to contact an experienced Atlanta overtime compensation lawyer at Betts & Associates immediately.

August 26, 2012

Today Betts & Associates Opens The Rome Georgia Office

We are proud to announce that today will be day one of our new office in Rome Georgia. The address is 1900 Turner McCall Blvd SW Rome, GA 30161-3329. You can contact us at (706) 235-7575. Our new office manager Ms. Izzy Reyes will be glad to schedule an appointment to speak with an attorney over the phone or in person. Ms. Reyes is bilingual and is fully capable of handling initial correspondence in both English and Spanish. Please feel free to fax us your information using fax #: (706) 235-7590. The hours of operation for the Rome location will be Monday through Saturday from 10:00 A.M. to 3:00 P.M.. We look forward to making your acquaintance and as always "Justice Matters".
August 25, 2012

Illegal Immigrants with Deferred Action Can Get a Georgia Driver's License

Not having a valid driver's license is a significant obstacle for many undocumented workers. The driver's license is an important way to get to jobs or school, but also much needed form of identification. Until a few years ago, getting a driver's license was possible for all Georgia residents who could pass the written and road tests. But a national crackdown lead by anti-immigration forces, change that. Now, when applying for a license, you must present your full social security number, and proof of U.S. citizenship or lawful presence in the United States, which is not possible for those who were brought to this country as children and who are currently lacking lawful status. For those immigrants who obtain work permits under the deferred action plan created by President Obama, getting a Georgia driver's license has become possible.

This week Attorney General Sam Olens wrote a letter to Georgia Governor Nathan Deal. The Associated Press reports that AG Olens, a Republican said in the letter, "While I do not agree with the actions of the President in issuing the directive, it has been implemented by the Department of Homeland Security, USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services), and state law recognizes the approval of deferred action status as a basis for issuing a temporary driver's license." According to the article, this letter came after "a Georgia Department of Driver Services spokeswoman said last week that Georgia law considers those with deferred action status eligible for driver's licenses and added that the agency would issue them unless it got other instructions."

Although it might seem like this would be a universal decision, in many states governors are taking the opposite action and expressly barring their Departments of Motor Vehicles from issuing license. Not surprisingly, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer is refusing to grant licenses. Following her lead are Nebraska and Texas. Though it is not completely clear if Governor Deal will follow the recommendation of his AG and the Georgia DDS, by seeking their guidance it suggests that he is interested in following their recommendations, particularly because to do otherwise would be at odds with his own party's Attorney General.

In order to obtain a driver's license in Georgia, a person will have to first apply and qualify for deferred action. Information on apply for these programs and how Betts and Associates might be able to help you can be found here and here. Once you have your work permit, you would then be eligible to apply.

Like any new driver, deferred action participants would first need to get a permit. and then after the required wait time, could apply for a license.

Drive safe and good luck!

August 24, 2012

Unpaid Internships v. Employee? What are the requirements in Georgia?


For many recent college graduates in Georgia, the path after college no longer starts with a job. Instead many find they must take unpaid internships in order to find work in their fields. Many unpaid internship programs are failing to conform to federal requirements and participants in those programs may be entitled to back wages and damages.

You might wonder why there are requirements at all. Is this an example of the federal government overreaching? Can't people choose to volunteer to do work? Isn't this a violation of freedom to contract? To answer these questions, we have to think historically. Before 1936 there was no federal minimum wage in the United States. This meant that people were often working for very small amounts without any assurance that the amount they were originally hired for would not be later cut. The lowest paid workers were the most vulnerable to this. When work was scarce, it resulted in a race to the bottom, with people under bidding each other, far below the amount needed to earn a decent living. President Roosevelt stated that a minimum wage would create a "minimum standard of living necessary for health, efficiency and general well-being."

Overtime the federal minimum wage has risen to its current rate of $7.25. This is the minimum amount of money that the federal government requires employers to pay workers. Even if a worker were to say to a prospective employer "I need this job so badly that I will work for you for $7.00 per hour or even less" the employer is legally barred from contracting around the minimum hourly wage.

So, how does this apply to internships, you may ask. Business, both for-profit and not-for-profit, are routinely advertising unpaid internships or low-stipended internships as a way to work for those companies. Without any other low-level entry positions, young workers feel compelled to take these jobs. But, for an internship to qualify to be unpaid, the internship must be educational in nature. The Department of Labor has issued Fact Sheet #71: Internship Programs Under The Fair Labor Standards Act to help bring clarity to what work qualifies for these unpaid internships.

The Fact Sheet sets out six factors for determining intern-status. To qualify to be an unpaid intern, all of the following must be true:

  1. The internship is similar to vocational training.
  2. The internship is designed to benefit and train the intern for work in the business's field.
  3. The intern is not hired instead of paid employees and receives supervision by paid employees.
  4. The employer does not benefit from the labor of the intern and it might sometimes make the business less profitable or less efficient
  5. The intern is not in training for a guaranteed job later; and
  6. The employer and the intern know that the work is unpaid and for a limited duration.

If any of the above is not true, such as the intern is not being supervised or the business is having unpaid interns do secretarial work instead of hiring a secretary, then the worker should be considered an employee and is entitled to receive at least the federal minimum wage for his or her work. If you believe your unpaid internship fails to conform to these requirements, you may have a legal action. Betts and Associates would be able to advise you of your legal rights in Georgia.

Remember, you have a right to a fair wage. And, your employer also has a legal requirement to pay you for employment.

August 16, 2012

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals: Where to Go and What to Do in Georgia

Yesterday the Office of Immigration began accepting applications for deportation reprieves in the case of persons who were brought as children to the United States illegally. According to the official immigration site, you may qualify for deferred action for childhood arrivals if:

  1. Were under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012;
  2. Came to the United States before reaching your 16th birthday;
  3. Have continuously resided in the United States since June 15, 2007, up to the present time;
  4. Were physically present in the United States on June 15, 2012, and at the time of making your request for consideration of deferred action with USCIS;
  5. Entered without inspection before June 15, 2012, or your lawful immigration status expired as of June 15, 2012;
  6. Are currently in school, have graduated or obtained a certificate of completion from high school, have obtained a general education development (GED) certificate, or are an honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States; and
  7. Have not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, three or more other misdemeanors, and do not otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety.

The New York Times reports that "the initiative allows deportations to be deferred for up to two years for as many as 1.7 million people and grants work permits to illegal immigrants who arrived in the United States as children. The work permits will allow them to obtain a Social Security number, apply for driver's licenses and receive financial aid at colleges."

To review the government forms you would need to fill out when applying for this program and see a video about the progress, click here.

You can also call to speak to a customer service representative: 1-800-375-5283.

There is a field office in Georgia. The federal immigration office is located in Atlanta. The USCIS office that serves all of Georgia is: The Atlanta Field Office, 2150 Parklake Drive, Atlanta, Georgia 30345. In order to make an appointment you must go through INFOPASS.

This new deferred action could be life-changing for many people living illegally in America. If you happen to be one of those people, you may also wish the assistance of a lawyer when applying. You can review the assistance that Betts Law and Associates would offer, here.

Good luck in your application. And remember that Betts Law and Associates is willing to help Georgia residents in this progress in any ways we can.

July 9, 2012

Who gets chosen for jury duty in Georgia?

One of the basic tenants of the American judicial system is a trial by a jury of one's peers. Historically what "one's peers" means has shifted, but today in Georgia it means all eligible adults. Adults who have criminal convictions or other judicial findings may not be eligible, but nearly all adult Georgians can be called to jury duty. Recently the procedure that counties use to create a pool of jurors for a trial date changed. Under the new law, a list of prospective jurors is created using the Georgia's driver's license file and voter registrations. Local county clerks then will draw names randomly from that certified pool. This new procedure is designed to make jury pools morefair and more representative of the population of the county where the trial occurs. (Read more about the change and reasons for it here: http://www.ajc.com/news/state-expands-jury-duty-1468744.html)

Lawyers consider the choice of member of the jury to be a critical moment in the trial. Before potential jurors come to the court house, they typically have filled out a Jury Questionnaire. According to the Jury Commissioner's Handbook, the personal data solicited on a juror questionnaire generally include: Name, Address, Phone Number, Type and Place of Employment, Work Phone Number, Length of Residency in County, Date of Birth, Sex, Race, U.S. Citizenship (See http://www.georgiacourts.org/aoc/publications/Jury%20Commissioners%20Handbook%20rev05.pdf)

Lawyers use this information to make initial judgments about jurors, based on prior experience about these groups. However, judgments about jurors based on race and sex are considered highly unreliable and discriminatory. Therefore, it is illegal for lawyers to strike or cut jurors based on this information. See Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79, 106 S. Ct. 1712 (1986); J. E. B. v. Alabama, 511 U.S. 127, 114 S. Ct. 1419 (1994).

Lawyers can also ask potential jurors individualized questions. These questions are meant to determine whether or not jurors will be open to hearing the evidence in a case.
As California plaintiff's attorney Darren O'Leary Aitken states, "First, we must find an audience who is willing to listen." (See http://news.aitkenlaw.com/articles/philosophy-of-voir-dire/) In order to find the right jury for a case, lawyers engage in a process called "voir dire." Voir dire is the method by which lawyers get to ask potential jurors questions.

Before voir dire, the potential jurors who are being questioned are sworn in and must answer the voir dire questions under oath. O.C.G.A. 15-12-133 (2010) controls the range of questioning allowed. It states:


In the examination, the counsel for either party shall have the right to inquire of the individual jurors examined touching any matter or thing which would illustrate any interest of the juror in the case, including any opinion as to which party ought to prevail, the relationship or acquaintance of the juror with the parties or counsel therefor, any fact or circumstance indicating any inclination, leaning, or bias which the juror might have respecting the subject matter of the action or the counsel or parties thereto, and the religious, social, and fraternal connections of the juror.

Therefore, when called to jury duty, people should be prepared to answer questions about themselves that might be relevant to the case. For example, if the case involved the suing of a car manufacturing company over faulty construction, a lawyer would be entitled to ask you if you had opinions about a particular car company or whether you believed that Americans are too eager to sue large corporations.

The skill of the questioner is vital at this stage in the jury selection process. The importance of good attorney representation of a client during voir dire cannot be overstated. Failure to ask the key questions of jurors can result in biased jurors being impaneled. Additionally, a lawyer cannot be too aggressive during the voir dire process, because his or her likability is also a factor at trial. Lawyers are often seen my jurors as a reflection of their clients. Great questions asked in a hostile manner can turn off jurors and make them unwilling to listen during the trial.

Jury service is a significant responsibility. It is vital that everyone do their part: jury pools are fair and balanced, citizens willingly serve, and lawyers work hard for their clients. When those three things happen, the American legal system functions properly.

July 6, 2012

The Executive Order / Deferred Action - Memo from Janet Napolitano re: Exercising Prosecutorial Discretion with Respect to Individuals Who came to the United States as Children

Click here to view the memo [PDF]

July 6, 2012

How Is the Dream Act Like the Executive Order or Memo on Immigration endorsed on June 15, 2012 by Barak Obama and signed by Janet Napolitano?

student.jpgOn June 15, 2012, Barack Obama endorsed a new policy from the Department of Homeland Security aimed at making the nation's immigration policy fairer and more efficient -- by removing the threat of deportation for young people who are low enforcement priorities. This policy is somewhat like the Dream Act that has yet to pass in Congress. However, there are some differences and if you are considering applying for the new program you may wish to seek the help and assistance of an attorney when filling out the forms with Homeland Security. Below is a description of both and information on contacting a lawyer about getting legal support and advice.

The Dream Act

The Dream Act is a Congressional Bill. It has not passed Congress. It has been introduced many times. The Dream Act if enacted would allow undocumented immigrant aliens who were brought to the United States as children a pathway to permanent residency and citizenship.

The Dream Act required applicants, among other things to:

  • Prove they arrived before they were 16.
  • Prove they have lived in the United States for 5 years.
  • Be under 30 years old when applying.
  • Have graduated from an American high school, obtained a GED, or been admitted to an institution of higher education.
  • Have no felony criminal record.
The Dream Act also required that, after having been granted conditional status, qualifying applicants wait six years and during that time:
  • graduate from a two-year community college or
  • complete at least two years towards a four-year degree or
  • serve two years in the U.S. military.

After those six years, those persons would be eligible to apply for permanent residency.

Compare this to:

The Executive Order / Deferred Action - Memo from Janet Napolitano re: Exercising Prosecutorial Discretion with Respect to Individuals Who Came to the United States as Children

A new policy from the Department of Homeland Security signed by Janet Napolotanio on June 15, 2012 and endorced by President Obama provides for temporary legal residence status for people who would have qualified under the never-passed Dream Act.

To qualify to apply for the status, applicants are required to:

  • Have come to the U.S. under the age of sixteen
  • Have continuously resided in the US for at least five years preceding June 15, 2012 and were in the U.S. on that day
  • Be currently in school, or graduated from high school, or obtained a GED or have been honorably discharged from the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States
  • Have not been convicted of a felony, a significant misdemeanor, multiple minor misdemeanors or otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety
  • Not be above the age of thirty

If a person meets those requirements, the order will allow him or her to apply to remain in the U.S. and receive a work permit and protection from deportation for two years, with the possibility of renewal.

Obama said in a statement about his order: "This is not amnesty, this is not immunity. This is not a path to citizenship. It's not a permanent fix." Unlike the Dream Act, this executive order does not provide a pathway for permanent status. But, many hope it will be the first step to allowing undocumented immigrant aliens who came to the United States as children a pathway to permanent residency.

Are You Considering Applying for This Program?

If you meet the requirements stated above, you may wish to speak to an attorney before taking the next step. As of June 18, 2012, no application forms have been created by the United States government. However, Betts and Associates is committed to helping people who wish to apply for this program. For $250, Betts and Associates will help you to gather the necessary documents and proof, fill out the paperwork, receive updates on your status, and will represent you at one administrative hearing or meeting if such a meeting is ever required in your case.

If you would like to hire Betts and Associates to handle your case, please call 404-577-8888, email sherellemckinley@bettslaw.net or submit a short form on this website. For quickest attention put "Immigration" in the subject heading. We look forward to working with you.

July 6, 2012

My family member was killed. Can I sue the people who are responsible?

296-1275366564kmni.jpgWhat happened to your family member might be considered "wrongful death." Wrongful death is when someone dies because of the willful or negligent actions of another person. Willful actions are when someone intended to act in a certain way. Negligent actions are when someone did not intend to do something, but they were not acting in a reasonable or expected way.

The first step in a wrongful death case is to determine if the statute of limitations has expired. O.C.G.A. § 9-3-33 requires wrongful death cases to be filed within 2 years from the death of the person. If you miss the 2 year deadline, you will be unable to bring the lawsuit.

If the statute of limitations has not expired, then you must determine who has "standing" to sue. "Standing" is the idea that not everyone has the right to sue for everything. O.C.G.A. title 51 Chapter 4 limits who can sue, typically to specific family members. It operates somewhat like a flowchart:

  • →If the person who died was married at the time, the spouse has standing to bring the lawsuit.
    • →If there is no spouse, the children can bring the lawsuit.
      • →If there is no spouse nor children, then the parents can bring the lawsuit, even if the person was an adult when he died.
        • → If there is no living spouse, children nor parents, the administrator of the estate can sue.

Assuming standing is proper, a jury must find that the actions of the person who caused your loved one's death rose to the level of negligence or willfulness. For example, if a driver is texting while driving and causes a fatal accident, the jury might find that she was negligent in her duties to the other drivers on the road. However, not all deaths during auto collisions amount to wrongful death. In Georgia, accident is a defense to a wrongful death allegation. If the driver can convince a jury that she was acting as a reasonable person would have under the circumstances then she will not be liable for the death she caused. Sometimes the negligent or willful action might have been done by a hospital or a company. Businesses are generally responsible for the actions of their employees. This is called the respondent superior doctrine. One example is that if elderly person dies in a nursing home from neglect, the nursing home itself could be sued for her death. Another example is if a nurse in a hospital gives an overdose of a medication which causes a patient to die, the hospital would be a party to the lawsuit.

At Betts & Associates, we have decades of experience with filing and trying wrongful death cases. For a free review of your case, please call 404-577-8888.