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State Bar, other legal minds concerned over Ballot Amendment 3 regarding judges
Measure would change judicial qualifications commission
Cliff Jolliff 0508
Jolliff

Lawyers and former judges are discussing the possible political ramifications of Ballot Amendment 3, which would affect the independent watchdog agency looking at judges.

Amendment 3 concerns the Judicial Qualifications Commission, an agency created by a 1972 constitutional amendment to investigate alleged improper behavior by Georgia judges.

“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?” the question reads.

Pointing to the commission’s work over the past four decades to secure resignations for judges who have acted improperly on the bench, retired Juvenile Court Judge Cliff Jolliff said he disagreed with the amendment’s proposition.

“What we have now has worked pretty well over the years and may need some fine-tuning, but the change would just make it so politicized,” he said.

The Georgia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers issued a statement Thursday in opposition of the amendment expressing similar concerns about politics in decision-making.

“Under the new JQC a majority of the seven members would be political appointees. Further, companion legislation would close all future commission proceedings to the public, making it easier for the legislature to use the JCQ for political purposes,” according to the Georgia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

Currently the commission includes two judges selected by the Georgia Supreme Court, three lawyers appointed by the State Bar of Georgia  and two people who don’t belong to the State Bar and who are appointed by the governor. The commissioners choose their own chair.

Under accompanying legislation set to take effect in January if the amendment passes, there would still be seven members, but the State Bar would lose its direct appointment power.

Instead, the state Supreme Court would pick two judges, the governor would choose one lawyer who would be chair, and the speaker of the House and the lieutenant governor would each choose one lawyer and one non-lawyer. All appointments would also need state Senate approval.

Defense attorney Andy Hothem said the current system has a tough balancing act between the privacy for the commission attempting to make disciplinary decisions and the public’s desire for transparency.

“I don’t know that reformation of the existing policies is going to provide that,” he said.

Hothem said he personally supports more transparency and less intrusion from government.

“If this new reformation gives the public at large more confidence in the judicial system, then I think it’s good,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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