A southwest Georgia judge has been tapped to head the state’s judicial watchdog agency, which in recent years has ousted dozens of wayward judges off the bench.
Superior Court Judge Ronnie Joe Lane of the seven-county Pataula Judicial Circuit will become the new director of the Judicial Qualifications Commission on July 1. He will step down as a judge and succeed Jeff Davis, who will become the next executive director of the State Bar of Georgia.
Lane, 67, said he sought the new job to make sure the watchdog agency stays vigilant and aggressive.
“There were people who thought I’d be lax on judges because I am a judge,” Lane said in a telephone interview from his chambers in Donalsonville. “Those people don’t know me.”
He added, “I’m not going to say we’re going to go out and hang everybody. We’re not going to do that. But I want the commission to remain strong and viable, to investigate a judge when it’s warranted and, when necessary, take action to remove people who should not be on the bench.”
Just this month, Lane issued a ruling against a judge in his own circuit. When it was disclosed that Clay County Magistrate Judge Charlotte Shivers had approved a search warrant based on an affidavit signed by her nephew, Deputy Sheriff Locke Shivers, Lane suppressed evidence seized in a criminal investigation involving scrap metals.
Lane also ordered Judge Shivers to stop issuing any warrants based on affidavits signed by the sheriff or any of his deputies, and he ordered Judge Shivers to stop presiding over hearings in which the sheriff or his deputies were going to be witnesses.
“Ronnie Joe Lane is a man of utmost integrity who demands the highest ethical standards for himself and his judicial colleagues,” said Davis, the outgoing Judicial Qualifications Commission director. “This appointment ensures continuity of the commission’s mandate to protect the public from unethical judges.”
Lane will report to seven appointed commission members — two lay people, two judges and three attorneys. He will work closely with JQC investigator Richard Hyde, who has uncovered corruption and misconduct throughout the judiciary and was one of the special investigators who exposed test-cheating in the Atlanta Public Schools system.
Lane, who grew up on a small farm in Miller County, graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1968. He then served as an Army officer in Europe and in Vietnam, where he was awarded the Bronze Star for combat service. He left the Army in 1973 to attend law school at the University of Georgia.
Lane said when he first became a lawyer, he appeared regularly before a tyrannical local judge. “I vowed to myself I’d never be like that,” Lane said.
The rash of resignations by judges who made spectacles of themselves has damaged the reputation of the state’s judiciary, he said.
“For that reason, I’m going to beef up our education of judges,” Lane said. “We need to teach these people what to stay away from.”