In voters’ hands: Future of agency that judges GA judges

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In voters’ hands: Future of agency that judges GA judges

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House Judiciary Committee Chairman Wendell Willard, R-Sandy Springs, is a chief sponsor of a bill to authorize a Georgia constitutional amendment to alter the commission that oversees judicial conduct. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM / March 2015 photo

Georgia voters will decide on Nov. 8 whether to amend the state’s Constitution to tear down and rebuild the commission that oversees judges’ conduct.

Supporters of Amendment 3 say it’s a sensible effort to gain control of a power-drunk Judicial Qualifications Commission that answers to no one and unfairly targets judges.

Opponents of the measure say it’s a political power grab orchestrated by legislators who are friends and allies of judges who were targeted by the commission.

One of the amendment’s House sponsors, state Rep. Johnnie Caldwell Jr., R-Thomaston, was himself a Superior Court judge forced from office by the commission over inappropriate sexual comments he made to female lawyers. In 2010, upon resigning, he pledged that he would “never seek or accept judicial office again.”

Instead, he ran for the state House in 2012 and won.

In 2016, Caldwell co-sponsored bills that would abolish the independent Judicial Qualifications Commission and replace it with a commission controlled by the Legislature.

The push is not a power grab, said state Rep. Wendell Willard, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and a chief sponsor of the bill authorizing the amendment. “The people who were being appointed (to the JQC) … misused some of the powers given them. I, for one, thought there needed to be a reining in.”

But former JQC Chairman Lester Tate, who resigned in April, said the proposed amendment is all about revenge. Since 2007, the commission has removed almost six dozen judges, including Caldwell. Some resigned rather than be subject to an investigation.

And Tate said regardless of the outcome of Georgia election 2016, the current JQC is “dead in the water because the Legislature has destroyed it.”

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