Richard Hyde
Richard Hyde (John Disney/ ALM)

The Speaker of Georgia’s House of Representatives has reappointed Richard Hyde, the state Judicial Qualifications Commission’s former longtime investigator, to continue serving as a commissioner on the newly constituted agency now under the Legislature’s control.

Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, this week named Hyde as his civilian appointee to the JQC in tandem with his rejection of a list of candidates recommended by the State Bar of Georgia to fill his second allotted appointment, who by law must be a member of the Georgia bar.

Meanwhile, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle did utilize the bar’s list, reappointing Savannah attorney Lester Johnson as a commissioner. Cagle had already named former Forsyth County Commissioner Brian Tam as his civilian representative on the JQC.

Ralston spokesman Kaleb McMichen told the Daily Report in an email Thursday that the speaker reappointed Hyde because “he came forward and voluntarily testified” at hearings held by the House Special Study Committee on JQC Reform last September and offered “forthright and firsthand insight into the previous JQC model and its operations.” McMichen said that Ralston appointed Hyde because he “has a proven track record as a champion for a fair and professional judiciary.”

Hyde, an investigator at the Atlanta offices of Balch & Bingham, spent at least a decade working as a contract investigator for the JQC. Gov. Nathan Deal has twice appointed him to the JQC—once in January 2013 and again in December 2015. In April 2014, Hyde stepped down at the request of his fellow commissioners in order to resume his role as investigator, a post that had remained vacant while he was a commission member. Hyde is also a member of an ad-hoc committee created by state Supreme Court Justice David Nahmias that has been working on amendments to the current law that would revamp the agency a third time. That committee has also been rewriting the JQC’s current operating rules.

In an email to the Daily Report, Hyde said he was honored to be Ralston’s nominee and looks forward to working with the new commission.

On Monday, Ralston notified the state bar that he was rejecting its list of proposed candidates for the second JQC slot, just three days after the bar’s board of governors approved it and submitted it to Ralston and to Cagle. In a letter to bar president Patrick O’Connor, Ralston called the list a “very narrow pool of recommendations” that he said did not reflect “reforms” that the abolition of the JQC as an independent agency in favor of one governed by the legislature were intended to achieve. The new law specified that the bar would recommend 10 candidates; it recommended 11.

Ralston said the new law was intended “to bring a higher degree of accountability, inclusivity and transparency to both the selection process and the important work of the JQC,” He suggested that “a future list” of recommended candidates should “reflect the input of the general bar membership and bar members who recognize the spirit of reform” that he said the new law was intended to promote.

O’Connor said that, after receiving Ralston’s rejection letter, he asked the bar’s JQC task force, chaired by bar president-elect Buck Rogers, to create a new list of recommendations. A meeting is set for next week, he said. “We will seek input from our Board of Governors and all lawyers around the state before submitting a new list,” O’Connor vowed.

Asked why the lieutenant governor had selected Johnson from the bar’s list, Cagle spokesman Adam Sweat referred the Daily Report to Nahmias, the high court’s liaison to the JQC. The Supreme Court’s spokeswoman said Nahmias had no comment.

In 2014, the bar named Johnson as one of its three appointees to the JQC. The new law, which took effect Jan. 1, strips the bar of its three JQC appointments but allows the organization to make recommendations to the speaker and lieutenant governor. It also requires that all JQC appointments be confirmed by the state Senate.

On Thursday, Johnson told the Daily Report he was “surprised and honored” to be reappointed to the JQC, especially after the bar circulated Ralston’s letter rejecting the list of candidates on which Johnson’s name appeared. Johnson and the bar’s other holdover JQC appointee, Statesboro attorney Jimmy Franklin, had both been recommended as candidates for the new JQC.

Johnson said he is also “somewhat bewildered” as to his commission status. He said that, according to Cagle’s letter, his term began Jan. 1 and ends June 30. But he said that he has been told his appointment must be confirmed by the state Senate. The new constitutional amendment requires that all JQC appointees must be confirmed by the Senate in order to serve. It also mandates that the JQC in effect on June 30, 2017, will be abolished.

“I am,” he said, “looking forward to whatever comes next.”