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An Assault on the Independence of the JQC

by Arman Deganian
President, DeKalb Bar Association

As some of you may know, the State Judicial Qualifications Committee has been under fire recently in Georgia. Representative Johnnie Caldwell has spearheaded an attempt to dismantle the judicial watchdog agency. The ballot in the November election will include a proposed constitutional amendment to rid the State of the JQC. If the ballot passes, the independent agency would be removed from the constitution and replaced with one that answers directly to the state legislature. The JQC is a constitutionally mandated agency that polices the judicial branch in Georgia. The JQC has by no means been perfect. In fact, many of us have had qualms with the speed (or lack thereof) that they have addressed serious potential instances of judicial misconduct in the past. However, the motivation behind the November ballot appears to be nothing but political and potentially retributive in nature.

The aforementioned Representative Caldwell used to be a Judge in the Griffin Circuit. He was accused of sexually harassing a female attorney in his courtroom. The JQC was of course tasked with investigating the claims against Judge Caldwell. The female attorney testified about some of the sexual comments that she alleged that Judge Caldwell made towards her in the past. Many of the comments in the transcript are too graphic to be repeated. After the allegations were made, Judge Caldwell stepped down while the investigation was ongoing. In his resignation, he averred to the JQC that he would never again run for a judicial position. He kept that promise. However, he instead ran for a higher position as a State Representative. He is now taking the lead to dismantle the very independent committee that investigated his alleged improper conduct as a judge in the past.

In essence, Representative Caldwell is asking for a constitutional amendment to create a new commission which answers to state lawmakers like himself.”

As former Judicial Qualifications Commission chair Lester Tate said recently “You’re stripping an independent, constitutionally-mandated watchdog agency out of the constitution and putting it to the complete whim of the politicians.” Soon after the legislation was co-sponsored, Tate resigned from the JQC. In essence, Representative Caldwell is asking for a constitutional amendment to create a new commission which answers to state lawmakers like himself.

This obviously raises many concerns for attorneys like myself. The independence of the JQC is constitutionally mandated. That independent nature has prevented the politicization of the JQC. What Representative Caldwell is now proposing is the exact opposite of just that. The intent of the proposed constitutional amendment is to politicize the proposed committee that which would replace the JQC. As Mr. Tate recently stated, “It’s a political dumpster fire … [a]nd the only way that dumpster fire gets put out is if the people of the state of Georgia realize what’s going on, go to the ballot box, and vote no.”

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