Criminal defense attorney Seth Kirschenbaum was recognized for his prescient thoughts and execution in creating a roadmap for Georgia’s court systems to be able to function in the event of a pandemic. Fourteen years ago, Kirschenbaum envisioned how a pandemic might impact the court system and set about consulting experts, creating a seminar and helping create a 177-page playbook- manual to help judges deal with a public health emergency like a pandemic, according to a front page article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution earlier this month.
“I knew this topic was provocative and scary,” he told the Atlanta Jewish Times. “After a friend put on a luncheon in Asheville at which a possible pandemic was discussed, I looked into avian flu pandemics and put together the seminar. Trying to imagine what a pandemic would look like in the abstract was lot different than the experience we are all going through. Zoom wasn’t on the radar. Still, we addressed the basic question: How do we keep the courts and society functioning and not sacrifice health?”
Kirschenbaum hails from Glen Falls, N.Y., in the Adirondacks. After graduating Emory Law School, he chose to remain in Atlanta. He recalled, “I was optimistic about the New South as a place for a young person to seek out a great future.” After stints at a large law firm, Kilpatrick, Cody, Rogers, McClatchey & Regenstein, and the U.S. Department of Justice, he embarked in 1985 on his current criminal defense practice with Davis, Zipperman, Kirschenbaum & Lotito, LLP, on Ponce de Leon Avenue.
Notably, in 2001 to 2002, he was the first Jewish president of the 6,000-attorney Atlanta Bar Association in its then 120-year history. He currently serves on the State Bar of Georgia Board of Governors.
For his pandemic seminar, Kirschenbaum brought together representatives from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Other participants included an emergency room doctor; a legal expert in disaster planning, Joe Whitley, former general counsel for the George W. Bush administration’s Department of Homeland Security; and Leah Ward Sears, then chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court. Not incidentally, Sears chose then Associate Justice Harold Melton to head the Supreme Court’s initiative on the manual for the judiciary. Melton is currently the chief justice and, Kirschenbaum notes, doing a great job leading the Georgia judicial system.
After the seminar, a group in attendance formed the Disaster Response Committee of the Atlanta Bar Association. The committee met regularly for several years, delving into disaster response strategies. “We knew that a pandemic could cause serious issues with potentially catastrophic disruptions. We created two subcommittees. One worked with the courts. The other crafted a PowerPoint presentation for community groups.” On a lighter note, Kirschenbaum noted that, “I presented the PowerPoint to 80 retired Jews at the MJCC who looked at me like I had two heads.” The 177-page Georgia Pandemic Bench Guide was sent to all judges and addressed many of the issues our courts face today.
About current events, he said, “We are all suffering from pandemic fatigue and pressure to return to normalcy. But there is no magic that will make this thing go away until we each get a shot in our arms. The world is praying for a safe, effective vaccine.”
He ponders the current backlog in our court system. “Consider all the factors: How will lawyers and their clients be positioned? How will a jury be seated? How will the rights of the accused be protected?”
Speaking of present and future, he concluded, “After the six-month delay, next month grand juries will begin anew. There will be a tidal wave of 10,000-plus indictments. Then, the November plan is to roll out jury trials. Think about that. How do we even deal with protecting jurors?”
Kirschenbaum, focusing on white collar criminal defense, has been selected as a Super Lawyer every year since 2004, and in 2013 was named by Super Lawyers as one of Georgia’s top 10 attorneys. And speaking of creative uses of Zoom, Kirschenbaum’s wife Karla teaches private Suzuki violin lessons online.