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New group to fight Amendment 3, which would destroy judicial watchdog commission

The Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC) is the ethical backbone of the judicial branch. However this past legislative session, it became a political target for well-connected judges and former judges, unhappy they’ve been investigated by the Commission.

Now, a group called Georgians for Judicial Integrity will spend the next month fighting a move to strip the JQC of it’s independence. They launched a site — GeorgiaJudges.org — to educate the public about the ballot measure.

This November, voters will see Amendment 3 on their ballots, which would abolish the JQC and create a new Commission that is 100 percent a creation of the General Assembly, with no requirement to have public records of their proceedings.

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Sara Totonchi, the executive director of the the Southern Center for Human Rights — along with the ACLU of Georgia, Common Cause of Georgia, the Georgia chapter of the NAACP, Lambda Legal, and other organizations — launched a coalition called Georgians for Judicial Integrity on Tuesday to fight the measure.

Totonchi told the Daily Report the amendment is “intentionally vague and misleading….It’s a solution in search of a problem,” and that it “injects politics into a sphere where politics is entirely inappropriate.”

“This amendment concentrates too much power in the executive and legislative branches,” said Francys Johnson, state president of the Georgia NAACP.

Currently, the JQC is constitutionally independent of other branches of government, as befits a body that investigates ethics complaints.

One of the key sponsors of the amendment, Rep. Johnnie Caldwell, resigned from his judgeship following an investigation by the JQC into lewd and inappropriate comments he made to a female attorney.

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Earlier this year, S. Lester Tate III resigned as chair of the JQC, stating in his resignation letter, “I cannot in good conscience continue to participate in a charade that offers the promise of judicial integrity when, in truth, the actions of others have rendered the fulfillment of that promise an impossibility.”

Tate expressed concern that the investigations the JQC conducts into judicial misconduct would become political charades, and encouraged the State Bar to “put the pull financial and political weight of the Bar behind the defeat of this measure at the ballot box.”

Over the summer, the state bar came out with a statement saying they would not fight the amendment.

State bar President Robert Kauffman wrote to the Board of Governors that fighting the measure “will certainly not only lead us to being eliminated from any further discussions on this issue but could also lead to more direct attacks on the state bar.”

With only a month to to go before the election, the Georgians for Judicial Integrity coalition came together, “when it became clear that no one else would be opposing this destructive amendment,” Totonchi told the Daily Report.

According to the group’s press release, nearly five dozen judges have resigned over the past nine years as a result of JQC investigations.

“[T]his critically important state entity has been both effective and independent – identifying and removing dozens of judges whose actions have ranged from corrupt to unethical to illegal,” Totonchi said.

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