Georgia’s Supreme Court has “Upper Hand” in New JQC

“For the first time, the JQC also will make records and information regarding the commission’s administrative matters subject to public scrutiny. The new bill also establishes a mechanism by which a panel’s appointing authorities may, by unanimous vote, remove a panel member.” – Daily Report

The Judicial Qualification Reform Act of 2017 now awaits the Governor’s signature.

By Julius Suber

SPJ-Georgia Board Member

After much consternation over whether the Georgia State Legislature, which is not known for being transparent, or accessible to the public when it comes to input, would control the new Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC) come the July 31, 2017 start date; the judgement may have been premature.  Citizens did vote in favor of  H.B.126, in November,  even though the “abolish and remake” amendment was pretty much a black slate, where lawmakers, it appeared, could change the judicial watchdog agency for the worse.

There were legitimate concerns articulated by the Georgia First Amendment Foundation (GFAF) and the Society of Professional Journalists of Georgia (SPJ-Georgia) and others about citizens’ access to their courts; frankly, chief among our asks was, if the state Legislature was in full control “would there be less public access/input, given some state lawmakers tendency to work in secret, behind closed doors?” And, yes there was no delusion about what had become an embattled JQC.

According to a Daily Report article, dated March 31, 2017, titled, Legislature Redraws Judicial Watchdog Agency for a Second Time, by R. Robin McDonald, the new JQC,  flips on the Legislature’s control established in the interim JQC, in January 2017, bifurcates and increases the number  members on the commission:

“The bill, H.B.126, expands the commission from seven to 10 members—the three-member hearing panel [two of which will be appointed by the Supreme Court], which will participate in investigating the judicial complaints, and a separate seven-member panel that would conduct and prosecute those ethics investigations.”

McDonald continued:

“It [the bill] gives the high court authority to appoint a judge and an attorney to the hearing panel, and the judge appointee will serve as the panel’s presiding officer. The hearing panel’s third member will be a citizen member appointed by the governor.”

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