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Opinion 67

The Judicial Qualifications Commission has been asked for an Advisory Opinion as to whether the incumbent Judge of the Municipal Court of Savannah at the time when that court was abolished and the Magistrate Court of Chatham County was created by Georgia Laws 1984, pp. 4422-4426, was by 3(a) and (b) of said act specifically exempted from the educational requirements otherwise imposed upon magistrates under O.C.G.A. § 15-10-25. O.C.G.A. § 15-10-24 provides that “Magistrates shall be subject to discipline, removal, and involuntary retirement by the Judicial Qualifications Commission.” For that reason, the Commission has special jurisdiction and responsibility with respect to magistrates and magistrate courts. O.C.G.A. § 15-10-25 became effective in present form by amendment on March 29, 1984 and provides as follows:

(a) All magistrates shall periodically satisfactorily complete a training course as provided in Article 8 of this chapter.

Chapter 8, in turn, provided that any person who became a magistrate after July 1, 1983, should satisfactorily complete forty hours of training and should complete twenty hours of additional training per annum during each calendar year thereafter. The Magistrate Court of Chatham County was thereafter created by the General Assembly (1984 Acts, pp. 4422-4426) and 3(a) of said act made the Judge of the Municipal Court of Savannah Judge Emeritus of said Court and 3(b) made him ex-officio Judge of the Magistrate Court of Chatham County and expressly provided as follows:

The judge emeritus shall be ex-officio a judge of the Magistrate Court of Chatham County until such time as he submits his resignation from the office of magistrate to the chief magistrate. As long as such judge emeritus continues to serve as a magistrate, no other magistrate shall be appointed. The primary responsibility of the judge emeritus as a magistrate shall be with respect to criminal matters in the magistrate court.

The General Assembly, by the enactment of this statute intended, in the opinion of the Commission, to freeze the judge into office so long as he remained qualified, which had the effect of exonerating him from the initial training period, but left him subject to the subsequent training period requirements specified by the statute. Under the construction urged by the judge, that the amendment exempted him from the annual twenty hour training periods, he would be immune from discipline or removal by the Commission, even were he guilty of the gravest misconduct, and this was not, in the opinion of the Commission, the intention of the legislature.

[Pertinent Code of Judicial Conduct provisions: Rules 1.2(B), 2.8, 3.4. Cross reference to other relevant opinions for review: #15, #111.]

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