Government leaders were recognized Wednesday by the Forsyth County legal community as part of its annual Law Day observance.
Cumming Mayor H. Ford Gravitt and Forsyth County Commissioners Pete Amos, Patrick Bell, Jim Boff, Todd Levent and Brian Tam were recipients of this year’s Liberty Bell Award.
The honor is given annually by bar associations nationwide to people who have contributed to the local judicial system. It is traditionally not presented to lawyers or judges.
Forsyth County Chief Superior Court Judge Jeffrey S. Bagley presented the awards — one to Gravitt and one to the commission as a whole — during a luncheon Wednesday at the Lanier Technical College Forsyth Conference Center.
Bagley said the government officials were chosen for the award this year due to their cooperation resulting in the renewal of the county’s one-cent sales tax, which will provide funding to build a new courthouse and expanded jail in downtown Cumming.
“One of … the criteria [for the award] is contributing to the effective functioning of our institutions of government, and that’s the one we focus on this year,” Bagley said. “This year, focusing on [that] area, we had many people step up to the plat, resulting in the passage of [the tax].”
Bagley said the officials “showed courage in the face of fierce opposition” in including the facilities on the tax’s project list.
The judge noted the new facilities are needed due to Forsyth’s population, which has grown dramatically since the current courthouse was built in the mid-1970s.
At that time, he said, the population was 25,000.
“Twenty years later, in 1996, when the administration building was constructed to house most of the government functions except the courts, the county population was 75,000,” Bagley said. “By the 2010 census, the Forsyth County population had reached 175,000, yet the courts are still operating out of the 1976 courthouse.
“To say these facilities are much needed is a vast understatement.”
Besides the Liberty Bell awards, the association also recognized North Forsyth High School teacher Kathy Vail, who began the county’s mock trial program in the 1980s.
Mock trial allows students the opportunity to take part in fictional court cases, acting as attorneys and witnesses.
Attorney Kevin Tallant, who was on one of Vail’s mock trial teams, called her an inspiration for many Forsyth students who later entered the legal field.
“She is proof that a teacher can have an absolutely profound impact on someone’s life,” he said, noting that before mock trial, he had planned to become an architect.
Association members also announced the creation of the Kathy Vail Mock Trial Scholarship.
Vail’s North Forsyth High mock trial team was also honored for placing first out at the county’s regional competition earlier this year and competing at the state level.
As part of the Partners in Education program, an award was also presented to Silver City Elementary fifth-grader Sophie Ferrugia for a poster design.
In addition, the Richard B. Neville Jr. Memorial Scholarship was presented to Anna Cathryn Finch and David Bishop, who was unable to attend.
The scholarship is presented each year to one male and one female student from Forsyth County schools who plan to enter the legal field.
Georgia Supreme Court Justice Harold Melton also addressed the audience of about 150 on the theme of “a nation of laws and not of men.”