As a reporter for the Georgia Bar, Professor Paul Milich helped write the new rules of evidence for Georgia.
April 29, 2011
ATLANTA – To his great satisfaction, Georgia State University College of Law Professor Paul Milich will no longer need to stop in the middle of his evidence class to explain why the rules are different in the Peach State.
As a reporter for the State Bar of Georgia’s Evidence Study Committee, Milich has worked for many years to draft new rules of evidence for the state, which is still using a code passed in 1860, well before anyone had ever heard of videos, phones, computers or even Facebook.
“I’ve been writing books on Georgia evidence for 16 years and every year it amazes me that we get through trials with the confusion and the chaos in a lot of the cases over the years,” Milich said. “Our code is 150 years old. It’s just rickety, old and tired. It doesn’t even tell us what to do about photographs or videos because those things weren’t even invented when the original code was written.”
On Tuesday, May 3, Milich will watch as Gov. Nathan Deal, who was President pro tem of the Senate when a rewriting of the state’s evidence code was considered in 1991, signs the bill recently passed by the Legislature into law. Georgia is now in line with 43 other states that have adopted a modern code based on the Federal Rules of Evidence.
For Milich, it’s the end of a decades-long and at times frustrating process.
“It was scary, “ said Milich, who first began working on the new rules in 1986 and has seen the effort come up on the short end of Georgia politics numerous times in the past 25 years. “I certainly have learned a lot about the Legislature.”
Efforts to update state’s antiquated evidence code were repeatedly met with unrelenting resistance in the Georgia House thanks to the opposition of Speaker Tom Murphy. The longest serving House Speaker of any U.S. state legislature, Murphy held the post from 1973 until his defeat in the general election in 2002.
Two years later, the Georgia Bar, with Milich as its reporter, again began drafting new proposed rules of evidence. Working the new rules though its committees and eventually to the Board of Governors for approval, the Bar then sent the new rules on to the Legislature. The process took two and a half years.
“This is a very large piece of legislation,” Milich said. “It’s a 123-page bill. And that makes folks nervous. So they want to know it’s been vetted very carefully.”
Milich and the bill’s proponents spent the entire summer in 2008 working with a joint Senate-House study committee going line by line through the bill, answering questions, public comments, and comments from every segment of the bar as well. Last year, the bill got through the House and died in the Senate Rules Committee as time ran out on the session.
This year, HB 24 passed the House overwhelmingly (162-5) and passed the Senate (50-3) on the last day of the legislative session.
“We’ve basically gotten back in step with the rest of the country, and that’s gratifying because there’s no need for Georgia to be a straggler and we’re really wasting a lot of time and money with those rules,” explained Milich, who will now be working on efforts to train judges and lawyers on the new evidence code. “These new rules are slicker; they’re going to be more efficient, more economical. They’re going to make it easier for us to do the business of trying cases.”
The new rules, which go into effect January, 1, 2013, will mean a lot for Georgia, including:
• More economical and efficient trials
• Uniformity with Federal and sister state rules (attractive to businesses that would move here)
• More consistency in trial results from court to court.
“It’s been a long, torturous road,” Milich said, “and we’ve reached the finish line.”
Director of Communications