A member of Georgia's judicial watchdog agency defended the agency’s work in front of a state House committee Thursday, while agreeing the agency needs changes.
State lawmakers this year passed legislation that would allow voters to decide in November whether or not to overhaul the Judicial Qualifications Commission, which handles ethics complaints against judges.
Richard Hyde, a member of the commission and an appointee by the governor, said he was proud of the agency’s work in the past. He pointed to examples of the resignations of dozens of judges – including one who pulled out a gun in court.
“The way that we investigate judges in Georgia is used as an international model of how to investigate judicial corruption,” Hyde said.
Hyde said the agency wasn’t perfect and needed fixes, but said he thinks some changes can be made without the passage of the constitutional amendment on November’s ballot. He said the agency exists to “protect the public – not punish judges.”
But when asked about the current state of the commission, Hyde said it’s an “embarrassment.” Both the commission’s executive director and former chairman resigned earlier this year, the latter saying the state Legislature was trying reduce the agency’s power.
Judge Brenda Weaver, chair of the commission, also recently resigned following controversy of her connection to the arrest of a journalist who filed an open records request.
Supporters of the overhaul plan have said the agency needs more oversight and transparency, and have raised concerns about due process for judges investigated by the commission.
Critics say the plan, which would give more appointments to the state Legislature and take away seats from the State Bar, would strip the watchdog agency of its independence.
Hyde was the only commission member to testify Thursday.
State Rep. Wendell Willard, R-Sandy Springs, the study committee's chairman, said other commission members were invited, but only Hyde and another commissioner, Edward Tolley – who Wendell said is scheduled to testify next week – accepted.
“I think it’s a statement of the lack of interest on part of maybe the other commission members who failed to appear,” Willard said. “It’s not an inquisition, this is trying to get information to better understand what’s happening with the commission.”