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Speaker Ralston fires back at criticism he used post to delay hearings, trials
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House Speaker David Ralston takes to the wellMonday, Feb. 25, 2019, to address accusations that he has abused his authority. Several Republican lawmakers signed onto a resolution calling for Ralston to resign over his use of power to delay court proceedings for his clients as a criminal defense lawyer. (Bob Andres/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

ATLANTA — Georgia's Republican House Speaker David Ralston is firing back at reports that he has used his elective position to delay court proceedings for clients he represents as a criminal defense lawyer.

Ralston took to the House floor Monday and got emotional at times in a speech criticizing the media reports as well as political opponents and fellow Republicans who have called for his ouster.

Ralston said he is assembling an advisory group to review the legislative-leave law he's been accused of abusing. He said they will look at practices in other states and recommend changes to the law if necessary.

An investigation by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and WSB-TV found Ralston asked judges to reschedule court cases at least 57 times in the past two years.

Clients of Ralston's private law practice who have benefited from the delays include men charged with child molestation, assault and drunk driving. Some cases, according to the investigation, had been delayed for nearly a decade.

Georgia law requires judges to reschedule hearings and trials that conflict with the legislative duties of attorneys who also serve in the state's part-time legislature.

State Rep. Matt Dubnik, R-Gainesville, said Tuesday that the media reports portray Ralston differently than the man he has gotten to know, and he appreciated hearing Ralston's perspective on the situation on the House floor Monday.

"I know him to be a hard-working man who serves his constituents as well as all Georgians, and I stand with Speaker Ralston in our continued service to the state of Georgia," Dubnik said.

State Rep. Lee Hawkins, R-Gainesville, also said Tuesday that the reports do not reflect Ralston accurately and were misleading in suggesting that Ralston had abused the law or expanded the law for his benefit. 

"I have known David as a friend for the last 13 years and I know him as a man who cares deeply for this state and its people," Hawkins said. 

A resolution introduced Friday by fellow Republican state Rep. David Clark of Buford encourages Ralston to resign, accusing him of an "unacceptable abuse of power" over his use of the provision.

Ralston said that he rejects "in the strongest possible way any accusation or insinuation that I have abused or misused" the legislative-leave law.

He called the investigation a "media hit piece" and said that of the four cases highlighted in the report, two were set to be finished by the end of June.

Ralston said that not all the continuances had been requested by him, and that no judge or prosecutor had ever questioned any of his requests.

But he also said he won't take more criminal cases until those highlighted in the investigation are finished.

Ralston, who is from Blue Ridge in the north Georgia mountains, has been House speaker since 2010, a position that gives him tremendous influence over proposed changes to state law and how Georgia spends taxpayer money.

Staff writer Megan Reed contributed to this report.


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