As we head to the polls on Tuesday, I am sure that many issues and candidates will be on our minds. One of the most important, yet relatively unknown, votes we will be casting is on Amendment 3.
Well, what is Amendment 3? Why should we care?
In a nutshell, if Amendment 3 passes, then the Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC) will be abolished and replaced with a commission that takes the State Bar’s involvement and gives it to the House and Lt. Governor.
The JQC is the organization commonly referred to as the “watchdog group” dealing with judges who are corrupt, unethical, or who have engaged in egregious misconduct. The JQC is the only group charged with investigating and punishing judicial wrongdoing. Because of its work, corrupt judges have been forced off the bench over the years.
The JQC is important to all of us because judges make decisions on life sentences, prison sentences, liberty, property, children, visitation, child support, estates, and just about everything else that is disputed in courts.
Fortunately, the overwhelming number of Georgia judges serve the community with honor, try to do the right thing, and go home at night hoping that they made the right decisions that day. But, there have been enough situations involving judicial misconduct across the state to require the need for the JQC.
Since 1970, Georgia has had an independent JQC, required by the Georgia Constitution. Today, we have the following lineup: two judges named by the state Supreme Court, three lawyers picked by the State Bar of Georgia’s governing board, and two laymen picked by the governor. The State Bar has been heavily involved in policing judges just as they have logically been involved in policing lawyers.
While the JQC has done excellent work over the years, there have been isolated instances of abuse when investigating and policing judges. This is not uncommon for an agency or commission. But, there is also no excuse for even one of these abuses. There are other underlying currents working here as well. I have purposely chosen not to address the names and other circumstances that helped bring this proposed amendment onto the ballot. Google will quickly help with that.
If passed, Amendment 3 would change the way JQC members are chosen. The Supreme Court would continue appointing two judges, and the governor would appoint one member to serve as the chairman. But instead of the State Bar electing three members, the Speaker of the House would appoint two members, with the lieutenant governor appointing the remaining member.
Thus, the State Bar loses all three members to the House and Lt. Governor.
I was conflicted for many weeks as to how I should vote. I thought that I would be fine with a Republican Speaker choosing members to the JQC instead of the State Bar.
Additionally, I do not always agree with the political stances, decisions, or actions of the State Bar of Georgia. Until recently, I just didn’t know how to vote on Amendment 3.
But, last week, I noticed that I was too focused on which organization I agreed with politically rather than what made common sense; which is improving on what we currently have. That is when I decided to vote “no.” The JQC should not be involved in politics. It should be as shielded from political influence as possible; even from my own party.
A “no” vote would allow the current JQC, that has a proven track record going back decades, to facilitate the minor changes within its agency to prevent potential future abuses.
As always, research the amendment for yourself and do what you believe is right on Nov.