The Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC) needs independence to keep abusive judges off the bench.
According to the AJC, JQC investigations have forced more than five dozen judges from the judiciary since 2007. In fact, a sponsor of the bill to dismantle the JQC, former Griffin Circuit Superior Court Judge Johnnie Caldwell, Jr., stepped down after a JQC investigation revealed that he made rude, sexually suggestive comments to a female attorney. He also agreed not to seek judicial office again. Two years later, former judge Caldwell ran and was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives.
There isn’t a problem that needs to be fixed.
In the last ten years, the JQC has uprooted corruption, illegal behavior, nepotism, racism, and abuse from the judiciary. For example, in 2013, the JQC issued a public reprimand of a state court judge for his unauthorized collection of “administrative costs” from criminal defendants appearing in his court, and for seeking a pay raise due to his revenue-generating practices for the county. He also violated judicial canons prohibiting nepotism when he appointed his son to serve as the state court judge in his absence.
The JQC’s work has advanced fairness and integrity in our criminal justice system.
One in 12 Georgians is under correctional control-parole, probation, or incarceration. Often times the fate of the person lies in the hands of a judge. Unfortunately, all too often people who come in touch with the criminal justice system are treated with little respect. In 2010, the JQC called for the resignation of a probate court judge after an investigation revealed that he, among other things, swore at defendants, referred to African-Americans as “colored,” and required defendants to prove their innocence. The Georgia Supreme Court later permanently removed this judge from the bench.
The goal of the constitutional amendment is to abolish the JQC as we know it.
Those who are trying to compromise the JQC don’t want you to know what they’re up to. The General Assembly has already passed the law needed to make JQC members beholden to legislators. All that’s left is for the constitutional amendment to pass. But the text of the amendment, as it will appear on the ballot, is full of vague, positive language that reveals nothing about the “fix” that the House and the Senate have already passed. The measure’s lofty language masks the details, misleading voters.
Judicial discipline shouldn’t be a political matter.
Generally speaking, the practice of law is governed by the state Supreme Court, and the JQC as it now exists has members chosen by that Court and by the State Bar, along with non-lawyer citizen members. Because of the special obligation of our courts to dispense justice fairly, the legal profession has always been free from politics. Putting JQC appointments in legislators’ hands threatens the Commission’s mandate to treat judges without bias or favoritism; it introduces politics in a sphere where politics shouldn’t govern.