Ronnie Joe Lane
Ronnie Joe Lane, a Superior Court judge from the Pataula Circuit, will start JQC job Aug. 1. ()

When he heard the state’s judicial disciplinary agency was looking for a new executive director, Superior Court Judge Ronnie Joe Lane of the Pataula Circuit immediately tossed his hat in the ring.

“My main concern was that, when I was a young lawyer, I had some judges who were tyrants. I don’t want to go back to us letting that happen again,” said Lane, who will become the first judge to take the helm of the state Judicial Qualifications Commission in its 42-year history.

“I think it’s too important to drop back. The commission has done some wonderful work in the last seven or eight years compared to what went on before that, which was almost nothing.”

“I asked for the job, and I’m glad to have it,” Lane told the Daily Report. “I want to continue the good work the commission is doing. … I think our commission now is dedicated to improving the judiciary.”

Lane will replace attorney Jeff Davis, who has been the JQC’s director since 2010 and is departing to become executive director of the State Bar of Georgia. Lane becomes the JQC’s fourth director.

“We are delighted at the commission to have a man of his stature and experience serve as our director,” said Robert Ingram, the chairman of the JQC. Lane will retire from his post as a superior court judge at the end of July.

Ingram said that Lane contacted the commission to express an interest in the job after news of Davis’ departure became public. “He told us he has admired the work that the JQC has done in recent years. He loves the Georgia judicial system, has great respect for it and wants, I think, to be a part of insuring that it commands the respect that the judicial system deserves.”

Lane, 67, was raised on a small farm in Miller County in southwest Georgia. He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1968 and served in Europe and Vietnam, where he was awarded the Bronze Star for combat service. He then became a special agent with U.S. Army military counterintelligence.

In 1973, Lane enrolled in the University of Georgia School of Law, earned his J.D. in 1975, and then returned to Miller County to practice law.

He was twice elected solicitor general of the Miller County State Court and served for six years as a juvenile court judge in Seminole County.

In 2000, he ran successfully for his current Superior Court post. The Pataula Circuit includes Clay, Early, Miller, Quitman, Randolph, Seminole and Terrell counties.

Lane has also served for six years as a member of the Judicial Council of Georgia, as a member of the executive committee of the state Council of Superior Court Judges, and as an administrative judge of the Second District, which includes Tifton and Albany.

Lane told the Daily Report that over the past several years he has offered advice to Davis and JQC investigator Richard Hyde about what might constitute a legitimate judicial practice in a rural area and what might result in an ethics infraction.

“I’m looking forward to doing the work, using common sense, using my experience as a judge so they have more appreciation for what they ought to be doing,” Lane told the Daily Report on Tuesday.

Ingram said the JQC had “many well-qualified candidates” who applied for the job. Some members of the JQC initially expressed concerns about Lane, questioning whether a judge should be shepherding ethics complaints about other judges.

“We don’t want to put a judge in that position if they’re not going to take their duties and responsibilities seriously,” Ingram said. “But, quite frankly, Judge Lane has been helping us on a volunteer basis for several years. … We knew he was somebody who took the job seriously and was willing to do the right thing.”

Ingram said commissioners believe that Lane “will have instant credibility” with the state’s judges. The JQC chairman also said that in ethics cases that are not criminal in nature or egregious violations the JQC attempts to persuade a sitting judge to stop engaging in the bad practices that may have prompted a complaint.

“Who better than a West Point graduate, a military special agent to go confront a former colleague and say, ‘What you’re doing is wrong, and it needs to stop?’” Ingram asked.

“We spent a lot of time getting a comfort level that he would take the job seriously and that he would do a good job in both educating judges and taking them to task when needed.”