AMENDMENT 3: Judicial Qualification Commission – Change how appointments are made and remove transparency of proceedings.
- H.R. 1113, passed March 22 – Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC)
- H.B. 808 is the legislation that regulates the new commission should the citizens vote to change the constitution with this amendment passed March 25th.
AMENDMENT 3 BALLOT LANGUAGE:
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?
THIS CHANGE IN HOW THE COMMISSION IS APPOINTED MAY OR MAY NOT BE A BETTER METHOD, BUT THE LOSS OF TRANSPARENCY OUTLINED IN THE ENABLING LEGISLATION IS A MAJOR CONCERN: THE QUESTION STATES……”and allow the Judicial Qualifications Commission to be open to the public in some manner?”
- Passage would change transparency for citizens: H.B. 808 states: “Information submitted to the commission or its staff, and testimony given in any proceeding before the commission, shall be absolutely privileged….” Lines 112-123 of H.B. 808 use “confidential” four times and “privileged” once again. Lines 136-140 reveal when confidentiality will be lifted – AFTER the subject under investigation is issued a public reprimand, censure, suspension, retirement or is removed.
- The Judicial Qualification Commission (JQC) was created in 1972 and is a non-political citizen body that currently oversees hearings for Judges who act improperly. According to the recently retired chairman, Lester Tate, the commission has experienced some challenges with their tasks. “What we’ve seen here is legislators that have come forward and just said, point blank, to folks, ‘We don’t like the way you’ve treated judges that we like. And for that reason, we’re going to abolish you.’”
- The referendum would change the way the commission is comprised. Passage would re-create it as a politically appointed agency subject to pressure from the Governor, the Lieutenant Governor in his capacity as President of the Senate, the Speaker of the House and, especially, other members of the General Assembly.
If passed: The State Supreme Court would appoint two; the Lieutenant Governor as President of the Senate would appoint two; the Speaker of the House would appoint two; and the Governor would appoint one.
Many citizens are concerned that this shift in how appointments are made would inject the heavy hand of politics into a process in which politics should play no role.
(Currently the commission is made up this way: Two judges of any court of record, selected by the Supreme Court; (2) Three members of the State Bar of Georgia who shall have been active status members of the state bar for at least ten years and who shall be elected by the board of governors of the state bar; and (3) Two citizens, neither of whom shall be a member of the state bar, who shall be appointed by the Governor.)
Jay Bookman, a columnist and blogger for the Atlanta Journal Constitution, wrote the following in opposition to Amendment 3: In short, the proposed constitutional amendment would inject the heavy hand of politics into a process in which politics should play no role.
Lester Tate, former Chairman,“I cannot in good conscience continue to participate in a charade that offers the promise of judicial integrity when, in truth, the actions of others have rendered the fulfillment of that promise an impossibility.”
Sen. Josh McKoon told the Daily Report that he didn’t “understand the tall hurry some people seem to be in to completely restructure how it works without some kind of formal input from some of the stakeholders,” adding:
Both houses need to be involved with any investigation into any alleged improper conduct…I disagree with the approach they [the House of Representatives] are taking. I think we are heading for a crisis.