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The Model Blue Devils pose for a picture with their new trophy after claiming the Region 7-AA Boys Basketball Championship over the Chattooga Indians 55-54 at Chattooga High School on Thursday, Feb. 18.

Famed northwest Georgia attorney Bobby Lee Cook passes away

The legal profession lost a legend Friday with the death of famed Summerville attorney Bobby Lee Cook.

The internationally known attorney just turned 94 on Feb. 12 and was still actively participating in a number of cases. Cook was admitted to the bar in 1949 and has practiced in multiple U.S. District Courts, U.S. Appeals Courts and the U.S. Supreme Court.

Rome attorney Ed Hine, who was a law clerk for U.S. District Court Judge Harold L. Murphy in 1980, recalls that by far and away the most interesting case, in his perspective, was Cooks’ defense of porn magnate Michael Thevis in what was at the time the first big racketeering case in the district.

“He put on a clinic,” Hine said. “It was vintage Bobby Lee. He was smart, prepared, quick and a very good mentor. He was kind and authentic.”

Hine said he was with Cook at his Mentone home last fall and found the attorney “as quick and alert as he was 50 years ago.”

Cook represented Wayne Williams in his appeal of the conviction for two of the Atlanta child murders. He also represented Tennessee banker C.H. Butcher Jr. and won not guilty verdicts on more than two dozen fraud charges.

Wade Hoyt III, another Rome attorney practiced with Cook for about 10 years, splitting time between the office in Summerville and Rome.

Wade Hoyt III

“He had a unique talent for being able to adapt to any situation,” Hoyt said. “He was only a bear when the other side forced him to be a bear.”

Cook was the most talented attorney he’d ever seen when it came to cross-examining witnesses, he said.

“He had a sixth sense for the weakness of the witness and once he discovered it, it was over,” Hoyt said.

Hoyt recalls that he and Cook filed suit in a case that involved the explosion and fire at the Rock Store on Kingston Road years ago.

“This one guy was hurt so badly, Bobby Lee brings him in and he was dressed up like a mummy. All you could see were his eyes,” Hoyt said. “When the defense lawyers saw that — it was over.”

Bob Brinson

Retired Rome attorney Bob Brinson actually grew up in Summerville and knew Cook when he was a teenager growing up. Cook always looked after him, even later, and associated with Brinson on a number of case. They also found themselves on opposite sides of the courtroom on occasion.

“He was a helluva adversary,” Brinson said. “He’d lose every now and then, but it wasn’t many.”

If you look up Bobby Lee Cook on Google, you’ll get more than 13 million results. One of those results is a YouTube video in which Cook is dubbed “The Master of Reasonable Doubt.”

Rome attorney Andy Davis recalls that it was not unusual for Cook to complain that he couldn’t hear very well.

Andy Davis

“He would repeat the question and repeat the answer several times to make sure it was his way of making a point,” Davis said. “He was a giant, this is a sad day.”

U.S. District Court Judge Harold L. Murphy, just a little younger than Cook, said from his home Friday that there were “a lot of stories I could tell about Bobby Lee but that would violate attorney privilege,” then broke into long laughter.

Judge Harold Murphy

“He was a great lawyer and he was a great friend,” Judge Murphy said. “I had a court reporter who kept calling Bobby Lee, Billy Bob, and it would absolutely infuriate him. It was the maddest I ever saw him in the court room.”

The attorneys at McRae, Smith, Peek, Harman & Monroe in Rome issued a joint statement which reads, “Cook‘s tremendous legal mind and ferocious representation of his clients elevated the esteem and admiration for the practice of law for us all. Bobby Lee Cook was a once in a life time talent, mentor and friend who will be sorely missed by all who had the pleasure of knowing or practicing with him.”

“There are no words that can adequately describe the far-reaching impact of Mr. Cook’s brilliance, fairness, and hard work over the years,” said Summerville attorney Holley Strawn-Gilliland.

“Mr. Cook’s iconic law career earned and deserves inclusion into our nation’s legion of legal giants,” she said. “Despite all that Mr. Cook accomplished, he never lost his connection to his roots, and he continued to serve our community until his final days. He was able to help an unimaginable number of individuals, particularly underprivileged individuals, and by doing so Mr. Cook changed lives and created opportunities that few would have ever realized.”

Cook was the first recipient of the Traditional Excellence Awards given by the State Bar of Georgia, the Lifetime Achievement Award by the National Criminal Defense Lawyers Association and the Small Town Lawyer Made Good Award by the State Bar of Washington.

During an interview several years ago, Cook said he was pleased to have won the Small Town Lawyer Made Good Award in 1989, a year after the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia received that same honor.

dwalker / Doug Walker, File 

Rome attorney Bob Finnell (left) presents a commemorative plaque to Summerville attorney Bobby Lee Cook following a panel discussion of Cook’s 66-year career at a Georgia Legal History seminar in Rome on Friday, March 4, 2016.

Floyd expecting to submit paperwork for Atrium proposal in March, deal likely to close in mid-summer

The details of a deal between Floyd Medical Center and Atrium Health will be presented to the Floyd boards during their joint meeting Monday.

No vote will be taken, said FMC President and CEO Kurt Stuenkel, but it’s his intention to detail the mountains of minutiae regarding the deal during the closed session portion of that meeting.

“We’re down to the last items,” Stuenkel said. “This is a complicated transaction, we’re trying to get it as clear as we can.”

The overall deal has remained much the same since it was announced over a year ago. There have been a lot of smaller details to iron out before the proposition can be vetted by the state, many of them concerning Floyd’s real estate holdings.

Once the proposal is finalized for what will become Atrium Health Floyd, it will be presented to the Georgia Attorney General’s office.

Because the Floyd and Polk County hospitals are not-for-profits, they must demonstrate to the state how the deal benefits the communities they serve. Another of Floyd’s hospitals, Cherokee Medical Center in Alabama, will not have to submit a proposal. Alabama does not have the same set of regulatory requirements.

The alliance, which is likely the largest business deal in Floyd County history, will likely pump an excess of $650 million dollars into the Floyd system over the next 11 years.

The process of review at the AG’s office takes 90 days, Stuenkel said. The closing of the deal is expected to be in mid-June or early July.

At that point the actual investment by Atrium will be determined. Stuenkel said he’s confident the actual figure will exceed the promised $650 million outlined in the original letter of intent from November 2019.

In that announcement, they stated the merger gives the hospital system increased buying power, or “economies of scale,” as Stuenkel put it.

Kurt Stuenkel

Those economies of scale allow Floyd tap into Atrium’s larger market share and benefit from their purchasing power as well as clinical expertise.

The merger also closes out a debt to the county. Floyd County backed $127.5 million in bonds for expansion and upgrades at the hospital. As part of the deal Atrium will pay off those bonds.

“Floyd County Commission will no longer be guaranteeing those bonds,” Stuenkel said.

Stuenkel said Floyd will still have a considerable amount of local control in decision making even after the merger is finalized. For his part, he says he’ll be around for a while after the deal is made to see it through.

“I’ve got no plans to go anywhere any time soon,” Stuenkel said.

Eli Alisago, a third-grader at Johnson Elementary School

Current zoning restrictions have to go, city officials and developers say

Public officials and residential developers alike agreed on at least two critical components of a serious housing shortage in Rome and Floyd County.

The first item: the Unified Land Development Code, joint zoning document adopted by the city and county two decades ago, needs to be thrown out. The second item was the need for the creation of incentives to assist developers with expensive infrastructure, specially water and sewer lines.

The city commission wrapped up a two-day planning retreat Friday with a special session that included more than a dozen builders and developers.

Mayor Craig McDaniel who told the crowd that doing something about the housing situation is the primary reason he wanted to serve as mayor this year, pledged to do things differently in the future.

Several of the developers expressed concern that obstacles like the ULDC need to be dealt with now before the price of construction materials grows even higher.

The city will open proposals for consultants to assist with the construction code rewrite on Feb. 25. City Manager Sammy Rich said he could not project how long the effort would take, but stressed that the city was committed to getting it right.

“You’ve got to set yourself a deadline,” said Jimmy Byars, CEO at Hardy Realty.

Builder Walt Busby said he’s got a project in the works to build 67 homes on 14 lots in West Rome. He estimated the cost of water and sewer infrastructure alone would be close to $470,000 and asked that the city consider reimbursing the builders strictly for the materials associated with the infrastructure.

Busby estimated material costs at about $240,000.

“The cost of materials has escalated unbelievably,” Busby said

Commissioner Mark Cochran, calculated that all annual taxes — city, county and school — which would be generated from the development come to approximately $254,000 per year. The city’s share could be recouped in perhaps as little as three years, he said.

As it relates to the ULDC and regulatory issues, Frank Norton Jr., a developer out of Gainesville told the group, “do what’s logical and not what’s in a 1,000 page manual.”

He estimated that regulations add 30-55% of the cost to building a new home.

“New homes will never be cheaper than they are today,” Norton emphasized. “The cost of materials etc...is not going to go down.”

McDaniel has appointed City Commissioner Wendy Davis to lead a special committee that will examine ways to help builders and developers. County Commissioner Allison Watters will also sit on that committee.

“I want to think about crazy things,” Davis told the group. “I want you to think outside of the box.”

'The biggest heart': Long time Cedartown barber found his footing at the Georgia School for the Deaf

Gabe Sinclair has had many titles over the years: husband, father, brother, barber, dorm superintendent, grandfather and great-grandfather.

But the title of Georgia School for the Deaf student has been the one to get him to where he is today.

Sinclair was born in Jeffersonville in 1938, the youngest of 10 children. Around the age of four, he was diagnosed with meningitis. His fever got so high, he lost hearing in his left ear and most of it in his right ear.

“They tried to send him to a mainstream public school, but as he got older, his hearing worsened,” his daughter Kathy Sinclair said.

His sister soon recognized this problem and realized he needed to learn about deaf culture and sign language.

At the age of 15, Sinclair found himself in Cave Spring at the Georgia School for the Deaf.

Though segregated from the white students, he blossomed there, learning sign language, playing basketball and studying the barber trade. His graduating class was small, but they were the first Black class to graduate from the school in 1957.

After getting married to his now wife of over 50 years, Bernice Sinclair, and opening a barbershop in Cedartown — he still wasn’t done with GSD.

He became a dorm supervisor at the school, along with his wife, and acted as a sort of parent.

“I actually grew up on that campus,” his daughter said with a laugh.

He was eventually promoted to superintendent for the dorms at the school and stayed on until he and Bernice retired in their 60s.

“He gradually stayed there... The thing I admired most was how he embraced and learned the deaf culture,” Sinclair said. “My second language is sign language... anytime you meet a deaf person, it’s like you’re instantly best friends for life.”

At the same time, he owned a barbershop in Cedartown behind Moore's Pharmacy on Main Street for over 20 years.

“To have a Black business on Main Street was pretty big back then,” she said. “My parents were also in their 20s during the Civil Rights Movement so they see things so differently than the way I see them and can appreciate things a whole lot more.”

When he wasn’t in Cave Spring or Cedartown, he was out fishing.

Growing up, his daughter said they always had fish in the house.

At 83, Sinclair believes her father is the oldest surviving classmate from that Class of 1957. He has four daughters, six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Sinclair described her father as having “the biggest heart” and “an insane sense of humor.” She recently made a Facebook post about his work and life, which got over 400 likes and over 100 comments.

“After I made that post public, there are people in the comments that I don’t even know, but they remember him,” she said. “They’re mostly former deaf students from GSD.”