Wednesday, September 28, 2016
You Must Decide Who Will Judge the Judges
Early voting is about to begin and there’s another amendment that you need to take a long, hard look at before casting your ballot. That is Amendment 3. I urge you to vote “No” on this amendment to our constitution that threatens the core of our judicial system.
This is how the Amendment will appear on your ballot:Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to abolish the existing Judicial Qualifications Commission; require the General Assembly to create and provide by general law for the composition, manner of appointment, and governance of a new Judicial Qualifications Commission, with such commission having the power to discipline, remove, and cause involuntary retirement of judges; require the Judicial Qualifications Commission to have procedures that provide for due process of law and review by the Supreme Court of its advisory opinions; and allow the Judicial Qualifications Commission to be open to the public in some manner?
So, why should you care about this seemingly innocuous ballot measure?
This Amendment is a hostile attempt by the Georgia Legislature to take over the one agency that protects our judicial system from Judges who commit acts of criminal and moral turpitude. Plus, all the other reasons a judge may become unfit to serve in a position that has such a great impact on the lives of our citizens.
Let me tell you how Amendment 3 managed to end up on our ballot. In 1972, the Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC) was created by another amendment to our constitution. The JQC is an independent “watchdog” group over all Judges in our state. Normal citizens going about their daily lives have probably given little thought to who polices the judges who judge us and who we depend on to have unbiased judgment.
The JQC, under-funded and under-staffed, has been quietly going about their job protecting the integrity of our judicial system. The JCQ is currently made up of (1) Three members of the State Bar of Georgia active for 10 years or more, who are elected by the State Bar’s Board of Governors, (2) Two judges of any Court selected by the Supreme Court, and (3) Two citizens, neither of whom are members of the State Bar, who are appointed by the Governor. Over the years, the JQC has removed 77 Judges from the bench, only the worst of the worst judges. Judges are human and they make mistakes, but those 77 Judges did not make simple mistakes.
The only person or person who would have a problem with this Agency doing their job is a Judge, and one is former Judge Johnnie L. Caldwell, Jr., not to be confused with his esteemed father that served Georgia well in many positions over his lifetime.
In 2010, Caldwell, Superior Court Judge of the Griffin Judicial District, resigned from the bench after the JQC had a “come to Jesus” meeting with him regarding his sexually explicit harassment of a female attorney. Court transcripts, which Judge Caldwell went to great lengths to attempt to conceal, contained graphic details of his shocking words and perversion. In return for not being “removed,” Mr. Caldwell was allowed to resign to “spend more time with his family.” In a letter to the JQC, he accepted responsibility for his actions and vowed he would never seek another judgeship. Instead, he ran for, and was elected State Representative to the State Legislature. Now he is a co-sponsor of amendment 3, the very legislation that will abolish the JQC and turn it over to the members of the State Legislature. Judges would then be answerable only to members of the Georgia General Assembly! How horrifying is that?
I see this Amendment as a crusade by a former Judge holding a grudge and having a vendetta. As evidence of this, Johnnie Caldwell did not recuse himself from the vote taken by the legislature as another Judge did who was merely a candidate for Judge at that time.
The fact that Johnnie Caldwell, Jr. is a sponsor of this bill is reason enough to vote “No.” No hearings were held prior to this amendment being placed on our ballot and the public was not asked for input. The legislation itself offers little detail as to how this new JQC would work. The last line of the ballot question says, “…open to the public in some way?” Wouldn’t you like to know exactly “what way” before voting on this important measure? If this law is passed, it puts the over-sight of all state judges into the hands of the General Assembly. Then they are free to tinker with the law each time a Judge and his network has a complaint.
Let me give you an example of a Governor and General Assembly controlled commission. The State Ethics Commission! This commission tasked with transparency in government is one of the most political commissions in Georgia. It’s a joke! It has gone from being a “watch dog” group to a Save-a-Pet.
The current JQC is not perfect, but it is as close to being non-political as anything we’ve got. We need to keep it that way. My only advice comes from my years as a paralegal serving in courtrooms and it’s something I have been yearning to tell the JQC for years. The current JQC has used very high standards to remove unfit judges from the bench. Evidently, a Judge with advanced dementia does not qualify for removal under the current standards.