A former state judge who resigned after being investigated for sexual harassment is trying to get rid of the watchdog agency that investigated him. The ballot this November will include Amendment 3, a proposed constitutional amendment to get rid of the Judicial Qualifications Commission, an independent agency that polices the state’s judges.
The former judge, now Representative Johnnie Caldwell Jr., is one of the amendment’s house sponsors. Caldwell claims that the JQC has “lost its credibility” and should be remade, under the power of elected officials. However, many see this for the blatant power grab it is.
“You’re stripping an independent, constitutionally-mandated watchdog agency out of the constitution and putting it to the complete whim of the politicians,” former Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC) chair Lester Tate said. “It’s a political dumpster fire. And 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.”
Since 2007, more than six dozen judges have resigned or been removed, including Rep. Caldwell. Some of the judges were investigated for pre-signing blank search warrants for police, having an affair with a public defender, conspiring to plant drugs on a woman after she accused him of propositioning her and brandishing a handgun in court to make a rhetorical point to a sexual assault victim.
Sara Totonchi, executive director of the Southern Center for Human Rights said, “We have seen how over the last 10 years the JQC has uprooted corruption, racism, nepotism and illegal behavior in the judiciary. In order to continue this critical work it must retain its independence. Amendment 3 introduces politics into a sphere where politics shouldn’t govern.”
If the amendment is approved, the current seven-member JQC will be abolished and replaced by one appointed by elected officials; four of seven will be named by the Legislature. If approved, former judges like Caldwell could handpick their crooked cronies and make them members of the JQC.