From reader Chris Murphy, who attended the Jonathan Redding hearing to determine if Redding will be required to provide information to a Grand Jury about his partners in the murder of John Henderson:
I was at that last hearing. The judge, Kimberly Esmond Adams, was looking for any excuse to allow his attorney into the grand jury, which goes against the rules. She delayed the decision, and it never was publicized what she ruled. That’s the kind of s**t that passes for justice: make a ruling, but do it when no one is around, if possible.
Does anybody know what happened? Will Redding be required to appear before the Grand Jury? The trial has already been delayed by a motion by Redding’s defense attorney in which she argued that her client didn’t understand the fact that he was being charged with murder.
Such are the criminal courts these days. They are our courts, but judges pretend as if the public has no right to know what they are doing.
And in Georgia, judges are abetted in secrecy by a judicial performance review system that is the weakest, most toothless, in the nation. The Atlanta Journal Constitution published a good article on the subject — I would only disagree with their description of the Georgia Judicial Qualifications Commission as “one of the slimmest in the nation.” I think it’s probably the weakest. The state spends more money every year on a hundred utterly unnecessary things. Yet, curiously, nobody in the legal community makes a peep.
So what can be done? It will require legislation to grow the commission to a reasonable size and legislation to require these people to behave as if they are operating in America, not some Soviet-style, untouchable, secret bureau.
It’s your money, and it’s your court, folks. You’re not going to be able to get the Bar Association, or any other legal group to do this: lawyers know better than to challenge judges. And judges are shamefully silent on even the worst abuses and incompetence perpetrated by their peers.
Legislators didn’t “accidentally” forget to fund the Commission tasked with overseeing judges’ actions, you see. Look at the names in this usual-suspects list, and you begin to see how lawyers and politicians are the same animal in this state — an animal that feels really comfortable telling you to butt out if you have concerns about the way things are being run in the courts.
No, this is a good old-fashioned conspiracy, and it starts at the Capitol, and it involves both parties — Democrats and Republicans may not agree on much, but they agree that they don’t want nosy non-lawyers demanding accountability from them and the friends they put on the bench.
There are people sitting on those benches all over the state who have utterly no business being in a courtroom. Somebody outside the system is going to have to demand change and wrest some power away from the cozy cabal that protects judges — from the legislative hearing rooms at the State Capitol to the powerless Commission.
(How do you prevent real reform? Create a powerless reform board and declare victory.)
It is a disgrace that Mike Bowers had to step in to take on the investigation of Kenneth E. Fowler, but the bigger disgrace lies in all the other incompetent judges who don’t have anybody taking a stand against them. So I would ask: why isn’t Bowers, not to mention other well-connected lawyers, doing more to change the state’s absence of a real Judicial Qualifications Commission? Where is the ever-so-principled Roy Barnes, who sees a white suit in every mirror he passes? The ersatz-populist Sonny Perdue, our own chubby Jacksonian? Has anybody even seen Thurbert Baker recently? Did he move?
(Well, but, it’s their friends on the bench.)
Why isn’t the A.C.L.U. screaming bloody murder about the secrecy of these reviews?
(Answer: they love incompetent judges. Incompetent judges often cover their tracks by grandstanding on behalf of “poor victimized defendants” and other claptrap that plays well in the press. And the defense bar sticks some of the worst judges on the bench in the first place: when it’s pro-defendant judges doing wrong, especially letting offenders off in violation of state law, don’t expect the A.C.L.U. to complain.)
But the prosecutors don’t show much backbone, either.
Until people start demanding that their elected officials actually fund the Commission and demanding disclosure of their activities, judges in Georgia will remain firmly above the law.