I have recently been contemplating the role of Traffic Court Judge in our community. In all likelihood, the last judge you came into contact with on an office basis was a traffic court judge. Almost every driver has received a traffic citation at some point – and if you haven’t, you probably aren’t reading this blog anyway. :)

In this regard, a traffic court judge is the ultimate people’s judge. He/She maintains the order and safety of the highways and roads we travel everyday. He/She judges over cases of state law that can result in imprisonment up to 12 months, license suspensions, and $1000 fines.  These are important matters to leave to happenstance.

But oddly enough, even though every other judge in Georgia is elected – traffic court judges do not face elections. Instead, they are appointed by mayors and county commissioners. Once appointed,the same mayors and county commissioners reapoint the same judges…over and over again. The process of job evaluation is almost non-existent. If you are in the club, your friends will continue to protect your judgeship.

For example, the Dekalb County Recorders Court judges are appointed by the Board of Commissioners. This board contains exactly zero licensed attorneys. (I may be wrong here, but a quick check online is my source – correct me if I’m wrong). In Gwinnett County Recorders Court, the judges are elected by the State Court Judges – who are publicly elected into office. This has some semblance of judicial accountability.

Georgia has a long tradition of electing judges. We believe that the judiciary serves the people and should reflect our societies morals. The one good way to keep a judge in line, is to have him face reelection on a regular basis. This keeps the judiciary honest, and true to the goals of serving the public. And trust me, judges are aware of how they are perceived in the public – it goes with the job.

But a part-time traffic court judge in Dekalb Recorders Court who has been appointed by a Chief Judge that was herself appointed by a board of commissioners has no loyalty to the public. His job security is based on keeping the Chief Judge happy with his performance. He doesn’t care what the citizens of Dekalb County think. His job and his loyalty aren’t to the public that he should be serving, but to an non-elected official that decides if he keeps his job. His rulings in court will reflect that, and influence the lives of the many thousands that fall under his powers.

In conclusion,  having traffic court judges publicly elected officials – rather than appointees – makes the most sense. These judges serve the people. They rule over the basic law of the land, and come into contact with more people than any other judge. They should be accountable to the public for their job performance. Traffic Court judges should be electable positions.