Q & A with Gerald Moore, candidate for Cobb County Superior Court judgeship

Gerald Moore headshotGerald Moore (photo provided by the Moore campaign)

By Arielle Robinson

Last week, the Courier talked over the phone with Gerald Moore, a candidate for Cobb County Superior Court judge, about his campaign.

Moore is one of five candidates who qualified in the election to fill the seat of Judge Robert Flournoy III, who announced that he will retire after this year.

Moore currently works as a Cobb County Assistant District Attorney, dealing with preliminary and bond hearings.

The Superior Court election is a nonpartisan one.

For anyone who wonders what the Superior Court does and why it matters, please refer to Georgia’s Superior Courts website, which says:

“The Superior Courts of Georgia is a court of general jurisdiction handling both civil and criminal law actions. Superior Court Judges preside over cases involving misdemeanors, contract disputes, premises liability, and various other actions. In addition, the Superior Court has exclusive equity jurisdiction over all cases of divorce, title to land, and felonies involving jury trials, including death penalty cases.”

The primary is Tuesday, May 24.

For Moore’s background and his campaign platforms, read below.

Talk about your background. Who are you?

Moore: “Well, first of all, my name is Gerald Moore and pretty much my entire legal career has been here in Cobb County. I had a legal career prior to that, but it was only for about five years and that was in California. My 20 plus years of experience has been all here in Cobb.

“I’ll start with personal stuff. I’m a father. I have two sons, a 14-year-old and a 17-year-old. I lost my wife to cancer about two and a half years ago, so I’m a single parent with two teenage boys. We have a German Shepherd, his name is Nayati and he’s a boy, so there’s four boys and no girls.

“Both my sons attend public high school, one’s at Harrison, and one’s at North Cobb and they’ve always been in Cobb County schools, public schools. My wife was a public school teacher, she was a special needs pre-K teacher, so she was a Cobb County teacher.

“My professional life, I spent the first 14 or 15 years practicing civil law and I was the CEO and managing partner of my own law firm, which did civil litigation here in Cobb County. Then I had developed an interest in becoming a judge, so I started out as a part-time Magistrate [Judge] in Cobb County, working from midnight to eight o’clock in the morning doing arrest warrants and search warrants here in Cobb County, which is where I kind of got a very good feel for public safety and how that works.

“As a night judge, you work with law enforcement so you’re around them all the time and you kind of see the different situations and things that they deal with. Then after being a part-time judge for three years, I was offered a full-time position and appointed to the bench by Joyette Holmes, who was the Chief Magistrate at that time, and I served a four-year term with her, also sitting as an assisting Superior Court Judge for four years. And that’s important because that essentially gave me four years of Superior Court experience, which is wonderful when you’re running for Superior Court judge.

“When I was sitting as a full-time Magistrate Court judge and assisting Superior Court judge, I heard probable cause hearings and bond hearings and did temporary protective orders, TPO hearings, and I had an opportunity to work with the community on that level as a judge, which was great.

“During that same time, I also put myself through the National Judicial College at the University of Nevada, Reno, and received a certificate in special jurisdiction, so I also got the formal education completed. I also completed advanced coursework at the Judicial College in substance abuse disorders, so drug treatment and drug rehabilitation and strategies around helping people find a way forward when they have substance abuse disorders.

“While I was in private practice during that 14 years, I also served as a special assistant attorney general with the Georgia Department of Revenue. I was appointed by Thurbert Baker, the [Georgia] attorney general at that time, so I was doing government work even while I was in private practice as a special assistant attorney general. So that’s my career experience.”

How do you think your background prepares you to become a Superior Court judge?

“Because you’re hearing matters, you’re already doing the work. There’s the idea of a job, and there’s the idea of doing something, and then there’s actually doing it.

I feel as though the fact that I have four years of actually doing Superior Court work — and I have the academic experience as well, as I explained, I went and completed coursework and a certificate at the National Judicial College — I think between those two things, that makes me highly qualified to take on this opportunity.”

You are running on a platform of mental health safety and rehabilitation for non-violent incarcerated people. Can you elaborate on what this platform would tangibly look like?

“So essentially, what my platform does is it makes a distinction between violent and nonviolent offenders. My platform, my first commitment is to the safety of the community. That’s my number one obligation, to keep this community safe.

“But violent offenders actually make up a very small percentage of the total number of cases that a judge deals with on a day-to-day basis. The vast majority of cases that we deal with relate to property crimes and substance abuse issues, and then wrapped all up in that is mental health because mental health runs through everything.

“So I make a distinction between violent and nonviolent offenders. For nonviolent offenders, I have an interest in using evidence-based programs to help restore them back to the community.

“As relates to mental health, there is a program in Florida that I’m very interested in modeling here in Cobb County which basically has a center that helps assess and get services for people who have mental health issues. There’s actually a program in I think it’s Broward County that I’m very interested in as it is related to mental health.

“But the bottom line is that folks who have mental health issues don’t get better in jail, they get worse. They need treatment and assistance. The other thing that’s troubling about mental health issues as relates to the criminal justice system is that when folks don’t have adequate services, they stay in jail longer than people who don’t have mental health issues because they don’t have the same off-ramps available to them.

“I’ll give you an example. You have someone who, say they defaced a freeway sign, that’s a felony because you’re destroying government property. Normally, that would probably be disposed of by a plea, being reduced to like a misdemeanor and maybe a small fine and some community service for a non-mentally ill person.

“But a person who has got mental health issues, severe mental health issues, they’re not able to take a plea so they have to languish in jail until they can get an assessment and evaluation to figure out what to do with them. And that could take six months to get the evaluation.

“So a person that didn’t have a mental illness could sit in jail for maybe 30 days, take a plea, and be released. A mentally ill person could be in jail for nine months or a year for doing the same thing. That’s a problem and we need to address that. And I like I said, I have some concrete ideas that they’re doing in other states that we could model our processes after that would improve that situation or situations like that.

“As relates to substance abuse, I’m interested in looking at evidence-based programs, particularly ones that relate to what they call MAT programs, which is medically assisted treatment for folks who have substance abuse disorders. I think that we underuse MAT programs currently in Cobb County, I don’t think they’re properly utilized. Folks who end up with opioid addictions create a medical condition for themselves and it requires medical intervention.

“And this is all science. These aren’t like philosophical, ideological beliefs that I have. This is all based on science, research, and evidence-based programs. That’s what my platform or my approach would be, it would be looking at what other jurisdictions are doing that involve evidence-based, science-based treatments for folks with substance abuse and implementing that in every opportunity in my courtroom that I could.”

There is a lot of emphasis in the world of criminal justice reform on rehab for nonviolent offenders. Your campaign website mentions being tough on crime when the circumstances warrant it. Do you think down the line that there is any chance for violent offenders to be rehabilitated also so that they do not go out and commit more violent crimes?

“I think that there’s always hope for people. I think that we need to always keep an open mind, and there’s always room to consider different options and outcomes. There’s no one-stop-shop or one size fits all.

“But I do think that as a rule, when you’re looking at resources and you’re looking at how to provide the largest amount of good for the greatest number of people, the vast majority of the work is with the nonviolent offenders — just because they make up 85 percent of the pie. Violent offenders make up a very small percentage of the pie.

“I’m not going to say that all violent offenders aren’t worth working with or aren’t worth investing in, I’m simply going to say that they make up a very small percentage. My platform would be to focus on the nonviolent offenders so that we could do the most amount of good as quickly as possible for the community.”

On your campaign site, you say that solving the root causes of the problems faced by repeat offenders can mean fewer people in jail and an overall safer community. What do you think these root issues are that may cause people to repeat offenses?

“The root causes are the two issues that we have discussed so far, which I believe are mental health and substance abuse. If you are mentally ill or you have a substance abuse disorder, you’re not going to be able to maintain lawful employment or healthy relationships. And so by addressing those two root cause issues, we can reduce people coming back [to court and jail].

“I’ll give you an example. Someone who has an opioid addiction, a serious opioid addiction, they can’t work a regular nine-to-five job. What they do is they wake up at 11 o’clock, 12 o’clock, one o’clock, they go and they meander down to Walmart, they shoplift or they enter autos, or they burglarize homes, or they engage in some other kind of illegal conduct to make money so that they can buy drugs. They purchase those drugs, then they do those drugs and then that’s how they spend their day. Then they sleep and then they get up and they do it all over again.

“By providing them with treatment options, particularly medically assisted treatment options, we’re addressing the root cause, which is the opioid addiction — which then stops the illegal conduct, which is not only using the drugs but shoplifting or burglarizing. So then, we’re addressing the drug addiction and we’re addressing the property crimes.

“Property crimes and drug addiction go together like peanut butter and jelly. You see it all the time. Many folks that have serious substance abuse issues also are engaging in property crimes, because they have no other way of generating lawful income to support themselves. Mental health rolls into all of this because many times people who have mental health issues also have substance abuse issues. That’s called a co-occurring condition and co-occurring conditions are very common.

“And when I say common, I mean approximately 50 percent of the folks that come through who have a substance abuse issue may also have mental health issues. Those go together quite commonly as well.

“And then to take it one step further as far as root cause is concerned, when you have someone that’s abusing substances — let’s just say methamphetamine, for example — they destroy the pleasure receptors in their brain over time. Then they essentially create a situation where they’re depressed because their pleasure receptors have been destroyed. So substance abuse can actually cause mental health issues, that’s one way it works.

“Then the alternate direction would be many folks who have mental health disorders are self-medicating because they don’t have adequate access to psychiatric or psychotropic drugs, they don’t have access to the proper care. So then they simply self-medicate with drugs. You can see how they’re related. Those are the root causes and they interact with each other.

“Mental health interacts with substance abuse, substance abuse interacts with mental health, and then both of them interact with property crimes. When you put those three things together — when you put mental health, substance abuse, and property crimes together — that makes up the 80 to 85 percent of the pie that I was talking about that we deal with in the judicial system. By addressing those root causes we’re addressing the largest piece of the pie.”

Your website says that you believe in restorative justice. People seem to have different definitions of it, so is what you have just talked about with regard to mental health treatment and evidence-based solutions how you would define restorative justice?

“Correct. And then also acknowledging that all these people that come to our courthouse that have these mental health and substance abuse issues are part of a community.

“These are mothers, these are fathers, these are children. These are people who live in our neighborhood and ultimately, I feel it’s my responsibility whenever possible to restore them back to the community. Because when they’re not functioning the way that they need to and they can’t hold lawful employment and they can’t have meaningful relationships with their family or with their community, that not only harms them, but that harms the entire community. So [my view of restorative justice is] the acknowledgment and the idea that we need to restore people back to the community through evidence-based treatment.”

In your campaign announcement video, you say you will bring fairness and compassion to the bench. In general, do you think the court system as it stands right now is fair and compassionate to folks, especially to folks from working backgrounds and people of color? Why or why not?

“I think that every judge that I’ve had the privilege of working with in Cobb County does their level best to provide all of those things. I think it’s something that we have to continue to work at and we have to challenge ourselves every day to find better, more effective ways to meet the community where they’re at.

“I think one of the big things at least as far as my approach when I was a judge and the way I would approach it if I were elected is meeting people where they’re at, figuring out where they’re at, communicating with them in a way that they understand and that they connect to, and helping them get the services that they need to find a way forward.

“I think that the old school of thought of punishing our way out of our problems is gone. I think that we all realize that we’re not going to be able to punish our way out of all of our problems in our community and that we need to find a way forward with folks. I think that that’s the way we do it.

“I think that we have a long way to go. I think there’s a lot of things that we can do better. As I said, we need to be relying more on evidence-based treatment programs and science and really digging in and trying to help people find a way forward. I believe that the system as it is now works, but I think that we have a lot of opportunities to do so much better. That’s why I want to be a judge, because I have a lot of ideas and a lot of commitment to finding better ways to do things.”

You’ve touched upon it a bit already but how could you go about bringing more transparency to the court system?

“I think we’ve gotten to a place now where we’re more transparent than we’ve ever been. I think the only thing left would be to somehow make our WebEx or our Zoom court sessions more accessible to the public. I know that there’s been discussions about how to go about doing that and under what circumstances.

“I think one of the challenges is that the way that the system is set up now when folks get a link, it allows folks to participate in the hearing and the fear is that if we just made the links publicly available then we could have folks that disrupt the hearings and we can’t have that.

“But I think that with technology, the opportunities for transparency are growing by leaps and bounds. I’m certainly open to using technology to allow the public to view my courtroom whenever possible. I think that open and transparent courtrooms are important — they’re also required by the judicial ethics rules. I think the more transparency we have, the better. I feel like the transparency has actually gotten greater with technology since COVID because of the accessibility to video.”

Is there anything else not mentioned here today you would like for voters to know about you and/or your campaign?

“I think that the two things that I would like to communicate in this article, or in general when I try to communicate — whether it’s through my webpage or through the media or however — is one I’ve done everything that I know how to do or that really can be done to prepare myself for being the best Superior Court judge that Cobb County can [be proud of]. I mean that in I’ve gone out and gotten the judicial experience and the academic training to prepare myself. I really want people to know that I’m qualified and that I’ve worked hard to get those qualifications and that experience.

“The other thing that I really want people to understand and know about me is that I’m compassionate and that I’m empathetic and that I’m a real person. As I explained to you before, I’m a single dad, and being a single parent and having to raise two teenage boys creates a level of empathy and understanding that I will bring with me to the bench.

“I can’t explain it any other way than to say until you’ve walked a mile in someone’s shoes — until you’ve walked a mile in a single parent’s shoes or even in that matter, a mother’s shoes — you can’t really empathize the same way.

“I think that the two most important things that a judge has to have if they’re going to do a good job for their community are empathy and patience. As a human being, as a person, I believe that I’ve developed those qualities of empathy and patience. On the professional side, I’ve already explained to you that I’ve developed those skills. I really want people to know that I have the professional skills and I’ve also developed the personal skills to be a great judge.”

To learn additional information about Moore and his campaign, you can visit his website linked here.

Arielle Robinson is a student at Kennesaw State University. She also freelances for the Atlanta-Journal Constitution and is the former president of KSU’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists as well as a former CNN intern. She enjoys music, reading, and live shows.