It appears that the big news from the State Bar’s annual meeting is that the Bar will do nothing to encourage voters to oppose the referendum that will gut the Judicial Qualifications Commission. In the wake of the last-minute vote to gut the JQC, its chair, Lester Tate, resigned. Mr. Tate called upon the Bar to do everything in its power to see that the voters defeated the initiative. The Bar will do nothing. It won’t even encourage bar members to tell their friends about it. So, when faced with the decision in the ballot box, voters won’t even understand what the whole thing is about. And it will be worded in a way that begs for a yes vote.
The Bar, through its legislative representatives, has explained the decision not to oppose the matter:
- They don’t want to oppose the restructuring because they want to have some input on making JQC proceeding more public. Of course, judges appear to want the proceedings out in the open, also. So, it looks like the meetings are going to open up regardless of what the bar does.
- The Bar estimates that it would cost $5 million to oppose the initiative. I’ve not seen a breakdown of where these figures come from.
This sounds sketchy, but I’ll assume it’s all true. I’ve been both supportive of and critical of the JQC in the past. Overall, I thought that the JQC has made the bench a better place. There are fewer circuits today than when I started practicing that were hours away in distance and 50 years back in time. And I fear that the number of circuits like that will grow under the new regime.
Here’s a thought. Why can’t the State Bar of Georgia promulgate a set of standards of professional conduct for lawyers who function as judges? The rules already have a set of special entries for prosecutors. Indeed, why couldn’t the State Bar incorporate into the Standard of Professional Conduct the Judicial Canons of Ethics? Then the State Bar could discipline judges as the JQC did in its heyday of about five years ago. The Bar could bring JQC investigator Richard Hyde on staff. The Bar could even create a staff devoted to judicial/lawyer discipline. The cost of bringing the JQC function in-house would be substantially less than $5 million, and the Georgia bench could either make it into the 21st century or at least not revert very far into the 20th.
Just a thought.