Veronica Cope, a criminal defense attorney, is running for the Gwinnett Superior Court Judge in a run off on July 24th.
Two attorneys will vie for the Gwinnett Superior Court Judge run off which takes place on July 24th. Veronica Cope and Tracey Mason are the parties involved in the heated competition.
Having practiced law since 2001 in Gwinnett County and the Metropolitan Atlanta area, Veronica Cope, a graduate of the University of North Carolina School of Law, has handled almost every kind of case that might come before her as a Superior Court Judge. As the Superior Court handles felony criminal matters, cases involving title to land, equity cases, family law matters, and other civil cases, Veronica Cope truly comes off as a natural fit for a judge that Gwinnett citizens will seek. She began her career as a business litigation associate at King & Spalding, LLP, and was a civil litigator for 8 years. For the last eight years, she has been a criminal defense attorney, often handling matters on a pro bono or reduced fee basis. She is a mother of three sons and resides in Grayson with her family.
We have a chance to probe her mind toward what the Gwinnett Superior Court Judge would be like and her legal convictions through an expressly prepared in-depth interview.
Q. What motivated you to become a defense lawyer?
My first inspiration to become a criminal defense lawyer was seeing the injustices experienced by people in my hometown growing up as a kid. From the age of 8 years old, I wanted to become a criminal defense attorney. In law school, I knew that I wanted to provide competent counsel to those who could not afford a lawyer. I have handled indigent defense cases for the last four years in Gwinnett State, Superior, and Juvenile courts.
Q. What type of legal services have you been providing for clients?
I have diverse litigation practice experience including business litigation, plaintiff’s personal injury, insurance defense, auto warranty defense, criminal defense, juvenile law, traffic law, and sports law. I have also handled a number of criminal matters with immigration consequences to ensure that clients would not face deportation as a result of the alleged criminal conduct.
Q. What is the most memorable case you ever had as a defense lawyer in Gwinnett County?
Having handled over 500 matters in Gwinnett County over the last 15 years, it is hard to choose just one case. However, one of the most recent memorable cases was a case where my client was charged with driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI). It was a misdemeanor case but a case with significant possible detrimental consequences to my client. The odds were stacked against my client as he had previous DUIs and he had a natural slur caused by a speech impediment. He was facing up to 12 months in jail. My client also admitted to drinking alcohol that night but was not over the limit. After hearing from my client, the jury found him not guilty and indicated that he looked and sounded the same in court as he did in the video. This was certainly a great victory for my client who was able to keep his job and remain a free man and able to care for his family.
Q. Could you describe your campaign platform/pledges?
I am running for judge because I believe in justice for all. From the time that we are five years old, we learn the Pledge of Allegiance. The most important words of that pledge are “justice for all.” I believe that regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, language, financial status, or pedigree that every person is entitled to being before a judge who is courteous to all, compassionate, and makes decisions with a commitment to being fair and impartial. My commitment to the community is to follow the rule of law and to make decisions on the basis of the law and the facts without regard to any other immutable characteristics. Fairness will be my top priority on the bench to ensure that everyone has a fair opportunity to be heard.
My platform includes creating a Second Chance Teen Court for nonviolent offenders between 17 and 21, increasing awareness of and accessibility to our accountability courts (Drug Court, DUI Court, Mental Health Court, and Veterans Court), and utilizing technology to improve efficiency in the courtroom and to save taxpayer dollars. I want to balance keeping our community safe with ensuring that individual rights guaranteed by our Constitution and state and federal law are protected.
Q. What experiences do you think helped you grow while you have been waging a campaign for the Gwinnett Superior Court Judge election? In terms of personality, insight, viewpoint, every aspect…
Running for Gwinnett County Superior Court Judge has certainly been a great experience, but not without challenges. Before running for judge, I did not fully understand how huge our county is in terms of area and the population. Gwinnett County has over 920,000 people, 8 different races, with over 35% percent of the population speaking a non-English Language. Gwinnett is the most diverse county in the Southeastern United States and one of the most diverse in the country. As such, there are a number of viewpoints which range across a wide spectrum. Running for office and speaking with members of the community has helped me to understand the different needs and challenges faced by each of these communities.
A great challenge in this campaign has been fundraising to get the word out about our campaign. Many people are unaware of the functions of a Superior Court Judge and the work that they do. People do not understand that Superior Court judges make decisions which will impact us for the rest of our lives. Therefore, there is a lot of apathy across our various communities about the judicial races which has made fundraising more difficult.
Q. If you are elected a judge, what factors/errors that you are aware of would you like to rectify regarding the court things/system?
As a criminal defense attorney, I have seen a lot of disparities in sentencing and treatment along racial, ethnic, and economic lines. Sometimes a person faced with a crime can face a higher bond depending on his or her race or perceived ability to pay the bond. I would like to see the court move toward eliminating racial disparities in sentencing and treatment of those accused of crimes. I would also like to see the courts utilize electronic filing, video court capabilities, and electronic calendar call and announcements more often to decrease the tremendous backlog of cases in some of our courtrooms.
Q. What qualifications do you think a judge should hold? Have you done your best to meet the qualifications? If you have done so, in what manner/way?
As the Superior Court is the highest trial court at the county level, I believe that a trial judge should have experience trying cases as an attorney. As a general litigator, I have a vast amount of experience trying both civil cases and criminal cases over the last 16 and a half years. This experience has equipped me with the tools to begin hearing cases from day one. A judge should also understand the cultural differences and have the right temperament to deal with litigants and defendants arguably facing the most difficult time in their lives. I believe that both my professional and personal experiences have equipped me with the tools to be able to deal with people from all walks of life and to effectively handle the duties of a Superior Court Judge.
I also believe that a judge should have great leadership skills. I have participated in a number of leadership initiatives which have allowed me to become a more effective leader. I am a graduate of the Young Lawyers Division of the State Bar of Georgia’s Leadership Academy, the Georgia Association for Women Lawyer’s Leadership Academy, Leadership DeKalb, and GLANCE Gwinnett (abridged version of Leadership Gwinnett). The skills that I have learned in these programs will enable me to be able to work with staff and court personnel to complete the business of the court in a cordial atmosphere in an effective and efficient manner.
Q. Please tell us about any community volunteer works that you have been involved in.
I have been an active member of the community since moving to the Atlanta area in 2001. I am a member of the Gwinnett County Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. and am actively involved in a number of community service initiatives. I was previously a board member for Cool Girls, a nonprofit organization for the empowerment of underprivileged girls.
I am currently a board member of the Georgia Association for Women Lawyers (GAWL) and served as the President of the GAWL Foundation from 2012-2013. As President of the GAWL Foundation, I worked tirelessly to award grants for nonprofit organizations with a focus on assisting women and children in the legal system, providing meals and services to the Nicholas House, a shelter for families in transition, and awarding scholarships for young women with a desire to work in the public interest sector. I have also participated in the GAWL Foundation's Girl Scouts Project for several years as a coach for the girls as they litigate a case from start to finish to earn their Law and Order Badge.
I have also served as a volunteer for the Junior Achievement Discovery Center at Gwinnett which provides real life skills to middle school students throughout Gwinnett County to prepare them to thrive in a global economy. I have served as an evaluator for the State Bar of Georgia's High School Mock Trial Competition and the Empire Atlanta Mock Trial Competition. Each year, I also participate in the Atlanta Bar Association’s Genesis Project, which brings Christmas cheer to children at the Genesis Shelter, a shelter for families with infants up to six months of age.
Q. Do you have any hobbies? What do you do for fun? How do you work off the stress that is caused by your tough job?
I love all things sports. I enjoy playing and watching basketball and also watching other sports. I also enjoy reading nonfiction when I am not reading law related materials. I enjoy exercising and am particularly fond of Zumba for fitness and fun.