Judges go bad and public stays in dark
The world within our judicial branch can be a creepy place at times. The average citizen has no idea about some of the frolicking that takes place behind the scenes at some of our houses of justice. In fact, to be totally honest, I had to think very carefully before writing this out of fear of retribution from the Superior Court one day. But here we go.
As you have no doubt read, two of our Superior Court judges, Johnnie Caldwell and Paschal English, have been pushed out of office by the Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC). Sadly, this is not the first time the JQC has had to force a judge out of his seat in Fayette County.
Previously, Magistrate Court Judge Kenny Melear, who callously used racial slurs while conducting judicial business, was shown the exit door and told not to return.
In the case of Caldwell and English, I was not surprised; rather, I wondered what took so long.
Yet another local judge may be trashed later if he continues to become entrenched in local and state politics, prohibited in the code of conduct.
The great irony is the people who wear the black robes, doling out justice in our community, get a free pass when it comes to their own unsavory behavior. They are essentially told to go home and to not be bad boys any longer.
The system we have in place for judicial oversight is pitiful. Our process of the judges looking after the judges creates an environment where only the most blatant offenses are punished.
Having our new Chief Judge Chris Edwards appoint District Attorney Scott Ballard to investigate the alleged “improper intimate relationship” of English, after Ballard has appeared before English’s court on a routine basis, calling English a legal “giant” in a local newspaper, does not give me a lot of confidence in the system. Yes, English already relented to the JQC and resigned, but should not an investigation be through an impartial party?
The judicial system is an honor system, leaving the citizenry exposed, with little ability to protect the public from judges who refuse to follow the law and engage in inappropriate behavior through their decisions.
As a general rule, once a judge is in office, it is almost impossible to vote the person out. Rarely, will you see a judge challenged in an election because the local attorneys know they will have to go to trial before that judge if they lose.
John Mrosek is the only local attorney who had the guts to challenge the status quo, running against Caldwell on two occasions. He should get top consideration for one of the open posts.
Obviously, having a judgeship with complete control of a courtroom and very little chance of being voted out of office creates a fiefdom mentality. It takes extraordinary discipline to maintain balance and suppress the ego under those conditions.
The longer a judge is in office, the more difficult it becomes.
The fiefdom mentality can cause a judge not to exercise even-handed judgment based on the rule of law. Personal relationships, prior business relationships, social networks can be allowed to supersede justice.
The code of judicial conduct, referred to as “judicial canons,” demands a judge respect and comply with the law and act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.
The canons stipulate a judge be patient, dignified, and courteous, performing judicial duties without bias and prejudice.
I have had court dealings with both Caldwell and English. I cannot honestly say that I did not consider either of them without bias on those occasions. One of those occasions cost the Peachtree City taxpayers $1.5 million, covering the Development Authority corruption during the Logsdon administration.
Of course, the two judges liked to hand out hefty sentences at the end of a trial. Those sentences were reported in the local newspapers, being, many times, the only public exposure their courts received. And while the public approved of stiff sentencing for criminals, which is not necessarily the best indicator that the integrity of the courts is being preserved, the judges began to wander
Please do not misunderstand and think I am saying that all of our judges are part of some corrupt bargain. We have some that daily apply the judicial canons to their practice as judge.
Character is the most important component in being a successful judge. Temptations always come along, the true test of character. In a system that absolutely relies on public trust, we must pray that Governor Perdue selects men or women of great character to fill the two vacancies on our Superior Court.
Peachtree City, Ga.
[Steve Brown is a current Republican candidate for the Fayette County Commission and the former mayor of Peachtree City.]