Macon lawyer leads state’s health care legislation challenge

After a legal career representing clients as famous as the Coca-Cola Co. and arguing cases in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, Macon’s Frank C. Jones has re-entered the spotlight.

Jones was tapped last week by Gov. Sonny Perdue to lead a team of eight lawyers in representing Georgia in a challenge against recently passed health care reform legislation. David Oedel, a Mercer University law professor, also has been picked to work on the team.

“My primary role will be to represent the interest of the state of Georgia and its citizens,” Jones said Friday, sitting at his desk in downtown Macon’s Jones, Cork and Miller law firm.

The walls of his office help tell the story of his six-decade law career. A framed photo of his great-grandfather, Isaac Hardeman, one of the firm’s founders, hangs in a grouping with photos of Jones’ grandfather George S. Jones and father, C. Baxter Jones, who also practiced at the firm. His brother Atlanta attorney C. Baxter Jones also is pictured.

Jones is shown in another set of photos shaking hands with U.S. Supreme Court justices.

Jones, 84, said he agreed to lead the governor’s legal team on two conditions.

One condition was that he would be working with other lawyers. The other was that the case would be handled pro bono. “I feel like what I’m doing is for the public,” he said.

Attorney’s roots run deep

Raised in Macon, Jones attended Emory University and graduated from Mercer University’s School of Law in 1950. He said he joined what’s now the Jones, Cork and Miller firm to continue family tradition and to work with his father.

For the most part, his time was spent in civil practice, he said.

During the time of school desegregation, Jones represented the Bibb County School Board for about 10 years.

“The Bibb County Board of Education made a strong, good faith effort” in complying with court orders, Jones said.

In 1977 Jones moved to Atlanta to join the King and Spalding law firm in hopes he’d have the opportunity to broaden his horizons in working for the emerging national law firm.

“It was very difficult,” Jones said. “I was happy here.”

Between 1981 and 1993 he represented the Coca-Cola Co. in two lawsuits. In one of the lawsuits, a judge ordered Coca-Cola to hand over the formula for Coke, but the company refused, he said.

Over the course of his career, Jones served as president of the American College of Trial Lawyers, the Georgia Bar Association and the U.S. Supreme Court Historical Society.

He also served on the panel that reviewed judicial qualifications when President Ronald Reagan nominated Sandra Day O’Connor to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court in 1981.

Jones left King and Spalding in 2001 to enter semi-retirement in Macon.

Since then he’s been “of counsel” at the Jones, Cork and Miller firm, where he maintains an office.

Jones said he doesn’t work anywhere near the same number of hours as he once did, but handles cases from time to time.

“I really enjoy practicing law,” he said.

Professor eager to help

Oedel, 52, has been practicing law since graduating from the Boston University School of Law in 1987 and has taught at Mercer University since 1990.

He said he received a call from the governor’s executive council last week asking if he’d serve on the legal team.

Even prior to the call, he’d expressed a willingness to help represent Georgia if the state entered into the health care lawsuit, Oedel said.

“I’m personally motivated by the sense that the Constitution needs to be respected,” he said. “Although I know that not everyone agrees, I believe there are serious constitutional concerns about the way health care reform was designed and enacted.”

Oedel said he and Jones previously worked together in 2003 on a lawsuit representing Perdue.

The lawsuit was based in the question of whether the governor could order the attorney general to stop a piece of litigation in the name of the state. Perdue had ordered Attorney General Thurbert Baker to cease litigation concerning how voting district lines were drawn in the state, he said.

The governor ultimately lost the case.

Georgia joins 18 states in the federal health care lawsuit filed in the Northern District of Florida. States have a May 14 deadline to join the lawsuit which alleges the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act encroaches upon state sovereignty and violates the Constitution, according to federal court records.

States involved in the lawsuit are Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, Nebraska, Texas, Utah, Louisiana, Alabama, Michigan, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Washington, Idaho, South Dakota, Indiana, North Dakota, Mississippi, Nevada and Arizona. Virginia is pursuing litigation separately, according to a press release from Perdue’s office.