Legal Ethics

Some Georgia Judges Close Courtrooms; Ethics Official Sees Possible Violation

In Georgia, some judges are banning the public from their courts, citing security concerns and the lack of space to accommodate crowds in small courtrooms.

Appeals courts have considered challenges to the closures in four counties, according to the Daily Report. They are DeKalb, Fulton, Cobb and Towns. Another suit, filed last month by the Southern Center for Human Rights, claims judges in the Cordele Judicial Circuit are violating a 2004 consent decree by continuing to bar public access to court hearings.

Among those expressing concerns about closed courtrooms is Jeffrey Davis, director of the state’s Judicial Qualifications Commission. “It seems to be the modus operandi around the state for courts to have deputies who question those who are simply in the court without business before the court,” he told the Daily Report. “People ought to be able to watch their government in action.”

Davis told the publication that when he goes to court to observe judges as part of his job, he is often stopped by local deputies who want to know why he is trying to enter the courtroom.

The chairman of the Judicial Qualifications Commission, John Allen, told the Daily Report that in some circumstances, closing a courtroom could be an ethics violation. “Openness of course is such a basic principle of the law in Georgia jurisprudence and U.S. constitutional jurisprudence,” he said. “You erode the confidence in the integrity and fairness of the courts by closing the courts as a matter of course.”

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