Supreme Court smacks down JQC over open courtrooms issue

[private]The Georgia Supreme Court slapped down the Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC), ordering the agency to reconsider an advisory opinion it issued that would prohibit judges from keeping the public out of their courtrooms.

The high court was intervening in a dispute between the JQC and the Council of State Court Judges over the question of whether judges can keep their court proceedings private.

The justices said in a decision released Thursday that they have the authority to review JQC opinions, and they ordered the JQC to reconsider its opinion on open courtrooms that it issued three years ago.

The Supreme Court ruling may only be in effect for one month, however. The JQC will be dissolved as of Dec. 31 under a constitutional amendment passed by the state’s voters on Nov. 8.

The JQC, which investigates complaints of misconduct by judges, issued the advisory opinion in August 2013 after receiving numerous complaints about courtroom closures around the state.

Actions that keep the public out of courtrooms “are, generally, improper,” the JQC opinion says. “We recognize, however, the authority of the judge to maintain the integrity and decorum of the courtroom, and in no way expect a judge to permit loud or unruly children or adults to disrupt court proceedings. Yet the law requires that such disruptions to public proceedings be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.”

The Council of State Court Judges wrote a letter to the JQC in 2015 asking it to revise the opinion as it involved minor children, inquiries from court personnel about the purpose of a person’s visit, and partial court closures in general. When the JQC declined to reconsider the opinion, the Council asked the Supreme Court to review it.

“Until it is clear and settled in the decisional law whether and to what extent the practices at issue are unconstitutional, it is not for the Commission to opine about what the Constitution means,” the Supreme Court said.

© 2016 by The Georgia Report

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Tags: Georgia Supreme Court , JQC , private courtrooms