This is not a strictly Snellville issue but it will affect all of us in the state. Please read and leave a comment.
Until recently, most people outside the legal profession had probably never heard of Georgia’s Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC), an independent constitutional agency that oversees the conduct of the state’s judges.
It’s been in the news lately due to the actions of an Appalachian Circuit judge who had a newspaper publisher and the paper’s lawyer arrested and jailed for trying to obtain spending records of her office.
The JQC is in the news again, and the possible consequences of this situation are a lot worse than one petulant judge using the power of the bench to retaliate for unflattering publicity.
A Trojan Horse of a bill will appear on Georgia ballots in the November general election. It’s a proposed amendment that would remove the Judicial Qualifications Commission from the state constitution and replaced with a different authority — one that answers to elected lawmakers in the Georgia General Assembly.
One of the sponsors of that legislation is Rep. Johnnie Caldwell, R-Thomaston. But Caldwell’s career in public office didn’t begin under the Gold Dome. Before being elected to the House, he was a district attorney and later Superior Court judge in the Griffin Judicial Circuit.
He resigned from that office as the Judicial Qualifications Commission was investigating allegations of repeated sexual harassment by Caldwell. Now, as WXIA-TV in Atlanta reported last week in a detailed and disturbing story, Caldwell is trying to dissolve the agency that investigated him.
The testimony against Caldwell might well never have resurfaced. A WXIA reporter tracked down the transcripts in the Fayette County Courthouse electronic database, but the folder for the hard-copy transcript of that testimony contained, according to WXIA, “only an addendum listing the courtroom exhibits from that day.” The rest of the transcript — 236 pages, including the testimony of a female attorney in Caldwell’s court — was missing.
After contacting a court reporter, the TV station reported, “not one but two certified copies of the previously missing transcript suddenly appeared in a drawer that had been empty during our earlier visits.”
Among the printable allegations: “[Caldwell] leaned in to give me a hug and crammed his tongue in my mouth,” and “He would tell me to wear my pants a little tighter in court.”
Caldwell, contacted for a response to the report, told WXIA, “I accepted responsibility for making a mistake. Since then I have tried to move forward with my life and make my family and friends proud of me.”
“Moving forward” apparently means scrapping the JQC and putting oversight of cases like Caldwell’s in the hands of legislators … like Caldwell.
“You’re stripping an independent, constitutionally mandated watchdog agency out of the constitution,” former JQC member and chair Lester Tate told the TV station, ”and putting it to the complete whim of the politicians.”
Calling the proposed amendment a “political dumpster fire,” Tate said Georgia voters need to “realize what’s going on, go to the ballot box, and vote no.”