- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Recent editorials from Georgia newspapers:

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May 20

The Savannah Morning News on the appointment of a local judge to preside over the Ahmaud Arbery case:

Overnight, Chatham County Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley has gone from relative obscurity to the most closely watched jurist in America this side of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg.



Only unlike Ginsberg, the scrutiny surrounding Walmsley has nothing to do with his health.

Judge Walmsley was appointed to preside over the Ahmaud Arbery case on May 15. Arbery was shot and killed while out for a jog on Feb. 23 in Brunswick. Two men, a father and a son, have been arrested in the slaying, which was captured in a disturbing cellphone video that was posted on social media earlier this month.

The incident has led to widespread protest. The victim was African American and the accused murderers are white, and the video appears to show Arbery was stalked and shot by Gregory and Travis McMichael without provocation.

Furthermore, the McMichaels weren’t arrested until May 7, and only after the Georgia Bureau of Investigation assumed jurisdiction in the case and a series of prosecutors had stepped down.

With public trust in local authorities lacking, all five Superior Court judges in the Brunswick judicial circuit recused themselves last week.

Enter Judge Walmsley.

News of his appointment dominated Savannahians’ conversations - virtual and otherwise - on May 19 and 20. Much of the discussion centered on whether an eventual trial would be held in Walmsley’s courtroom at the Chatham County Courthouse, and when it would take place.

Those are questions with no answers at this point: Walmsley has the authority to move the trial elsewhere within the state should the defense or prosecution file a change of venue motion; and given the current emergency shutdown of the state’s judicial system, the timing of the case’s hearing is impossible to predict. Local legal insiders say it is unlikely the McMichaels will face a jury before the end of this year.

As that knowledge spread late on May 19 and early May 20, interest turned to Judge Walmsley.

IMPRESSIVE RECORD

Walmsley moved from private practice to the Superior Court bench in 2012.

He was appointed to fill the seat of Judge Perry Brannen Jr., who took senior judge status earlier that year. Walmsley, now age 51, was the youngest member of the Superior Court bench at the time. He has won two judicial elections since, in 2014 and 2018, both times running unopposed.

Walmsley’s pre-judicial background is as a civil litigator with a focus on real estate and commercial issues. But he’s presided over several major criminal cases since donning the judge’s black robe, earning widespread respect for his thoughtfulness and measured approach.

A review of Walmsley’s judicial record will leave many Savannah-area residents saying, “I remember that case.”

Walmsley presided over one of the most closely followed local criminal cases of the last decade, the 2012 murder of teenager Amber DeLoach. The body of the then-recent high school grad was found in the trunk of a burning vehicle near downtown Savannah.

Walmsley sentenced a 38-year-old man, Shan Demetrius Cheley, to life in prison in January 2014 after Cheley was convicted of murder and arson by a jury.

More recently, Walmsley heard a child abuse case against a Pooler couple, Daniel and Christine Kendzierski. They were accused and eventually convicted of torturing their children. Details included the shackling of one child to a urine-stained bed and forcing him to drink water from a dirty toilet.

BACK IN LEGAL SPOTLIGHT

Savannah is a city that has seen its share of high-profile cases. Many people not native to Savannah came to know our town because of a series of trials chronicled in one of the bestselling books of all-time, “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.”

Likewise, the case of Troy Davis, convicted and sentenced to death for the 1989 slaying of Savannah Police Officer Mark MacPhail, made national headlines, albeit more for Davis’s many appeals for clemency and a new trial than for the initial prosecution.

The Arbery case once again puts Savannah in the legal spotlight. Judge Walmsley is well-suited to preside over the proceedings, with a reputation for fairness and eschewing ideological influence.

Walmsley won’t let his sudden celebrity influence his work, another lawyer said.

“He sees himself purely as a mediator, and he always follows the law,” said a local attorney who has tried several cases before Walmsley.

Savannah, like the rest of the country, will be watching.

Online: https://www.savannahnow.com

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May 20

Valdosta Daily Times on federal unemployment benefits:

Thousands are still waiting on their first unemployment check and federal stimulus money.

Don’t give up.

Keep pursuing and pushing for your benefits.

The process is slow and not easy to navigate.

The Georgia Department of Labor is inadequately staffed to handle the workload, but to be fair, the sheer number of people who have lost their jobs or who are on furlough is unprecedented.

Unemployment benefits and the federal government unemployment stimulus money should not be viewed as some kind of socialist, big government handout for people who do not want to work.

It is unconscionable that some people are viewing it that way.

Hardworking women and men throughout our state do not want to be unemployed.

They want their jobs backs.

They want to earn a living.

The unemployment insurance program administered by the Department of Labor in each state under the oversight of the U.S. Department of Labor is funded by the unemployment insurance tax paid by employers and collected by the state and federal government, part of the payroll taxes all employers pay.

Workers should look at unemployment as an earned benefit.

The federal government stimulus, the additional $600 per week for those who qualify, is money doled out by Congress to pump money back into the economy and to fill in the gap between what a person made while employed and the regular unemployment check which generally amounts to half of that person’s regular paycheck.

Receiving both regular unemployment and qualifying for the federal stimulus money is a lengthly process that must begin by filing with the Georgia Department of Labor.

It may take several weeks or even months to receive that first check.

Some people may even be called back to work before the first check is received but that does not mean they are no longer due lost wages or stimulus monies.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security money, known as the CARES Act, may also provide relief for unemployed workers who did not qualify for regular unemployment benefits in Georgia, but you still have to go through the same process to receive that money.

For instance, gig workers, essentially people who get paid by the job rather than being on the clock, may still be out of work and still qualify for the federal benefits.

But those workers will also have to apply the same way, be turned down for regular state benefits, then follow the prompts for Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, filling out what is called a PUA application.

It is important to answer all questions on the online portal or paper forms, and then closely watch for and respond to all emails. You can begin the process and learn all the details at: https://bit.ly/2ZfVWSA

We encourage those who apply for the benefits not to be dissuaded by how arduous the process is or how long it takes.

You’ve worked hard.

You did not ask for this to happen and you deserve the benefits.

We hope everyone sees it that way.

Online: https://www.valdostadailytimes.com

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May 15

The Augusta Chronicle on a recent increase in cyberattacks:

All the facemasks in the world won’t protect America from this threat.

And Augusta is right in the middle of fighting it.

While the world is battling COVID-19, cyberattacks are spiking, and it appears everyone wants a piece of the United States. That’s why the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security issued a warning on May 13 that China’s elite hackers and spies are directing their full force toward stealing any scrap of information they can about our nation’s effort to eradicate the coronavirus.

“More than a dozen countries have redeployed military and intelligence hackers to glean whatever they can about other nations’ virus responses,” The New York Times reported recently. “Even American allies like South Korea and nations that do not typically stand out for their cyberabilities, like Vietnam, have suddenly redirected their state-run hackers to focus on virus-related information, according to private security firms.”

The targets: universities, research hubs and just about any health care institution that hackers think can yield information about how our country is fighting, and is responding to, COVID-19. How are we treating the coronavirus? More importantly, what’s the progress on vaccines?

“We certainly have seen reconnaissance activity, and some intrusions, into some of those institutions, especially those that have publicly identified themselves as working on COVID-related research,” FBI Deputy Assistant Director for the Cyber Division Tonya Ugoretz said in a panel discussion held by the Aspen Institute think tank in April.

The warning didn’t name specific countries, but the statement’s wording - “advanced persistent threat groups” - is a thinly veiled reference to China, Iran, North Korea and Russia.

COVID-19 vaccine information has fast become the most valuable intellectual property on the planet. Hackers are scrambling to exploit any cybersecurity vulnerabilities in the network of participants involved in research on testing, treatments and vaccines. Every participant should be considered a weak link.

Add to that the millions of employees for these groups who are working from home - on their personal computers, with vulnerable software that tantalizes foreign hackers.

The decision to specifically accuse China’s state-run hacking teams is very deliberate, and here’s where the Augusta connection comes in. The public reproach is part of a deterrent strategy that also involves the U.S. Cyber Command, headquartered at Fort Gordon, and the National Security Agency, which has an important established presence at the fort.

Two years ago, President Trump granted both groups the power “to bore deeply into Chinese and other networks to mount proportional counterattacks,” the Times reported. “This would be similar to their effort 18 months ago to strike at Russian intelligence groups seeking to interfere in the 2018 midterm elections and to put malware in the Russian power grid as a warning to Moscow for its attacks on American utilities.”

“One of the things this pandemic has showed us is how vulnerable we are,” Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, said as a witness at a recent virtual Senate hearing on revamping U.S. cyber policy. King co-chair s the Cyberspace Solarium Commission.

Of course, the Chinese Embassy in Washington condemned the new allegations as “lies.”

Then surely China won’t mind that Cyber Command will be double-checking.

Online: https://www.augustachronicle.com

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