Georgia: Senate approves bill that would require municipal judges serve for set terms, allow local governments to remove from office only for cause; latest effort to change Municipal Courts

Georgia’s Senate last week approved its version of a House bill that would give Municipal Court judges set terms in office of at least 1 year and prohibit local governments from removing them from office unless they committed what amounted to an impeachable offense.

Under HB 691 as amended municipal court judges would no longer “serve at the pleasure of the governing authority.” Instead they would be required to be given set terms of at least one year in office or until appointment of a successor. Moreover, these judges could only be removed for cause by 2/3rds of the governing authority. The causes for removal include:

  1. Willful misconduct in office;
  2. Willful and persistent failure to perform duties;
  3. Habitual intemperance;
  4. Conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice which brings the judicial office into disrepute; or
  5. Disability seriously interfering with the performance of duties, which is, or is likely to become, of a permanent character

These provisions are taken verbatim from the state’s constitution (Art. VI, Sec. VII, Para. VII) in describing the reasons why the state’s Judicial Qualifications Commission may remove a judge from office. Additionally the municipalities could provide for additional conduct that would warrant removal in their various charters.

Any such removal procedure would have to be done in an open public hearing or hearings and the judge could ask for a review by the local Superior Court. Additionally municipal court judges would remain subject to discipline and removal by the Judicial Qualifications Commission.

HB 691 is just the latest effort to change the qualifications and terms for Georgia Municipal Court judges. A 2011 law (SB 30) requires the judges of these courts be attorneys while allowing sitting non-attorney judges as of the time of enactment to remain in office.

HB 691 now goes to the House which approved its own version earlier this year.