Damn, we cannot even trust the Judicial Ethics Chief to Not Cheat in Order to Get Extra Compensation!
Things are really bad when those who are in place to investigate Judges who have complaints filed against them, are themselves dishonest as hell. Does none of the judicial system and their investigators, not have to adhere to the laws that we are expected to adhere to?
Is that what it is all about? There are the citizens who are expected to follow rules and laws, then there are the judicial system that the same rules and laws don’t apply to?
Judicial Ethics Chief Resigns After Daily Report Probes Billing Deal
R. Robin McDonald, Daily Report
April 27, 2015 | 0 Comments
The director of the state judicial watchdog agency has resigned following revelations that he was being paid full-time wages of $120,000 a year for what he reported was part-time work to avoid having to defer his retirement benefits.
Lester Tate, chairman of the state Judicial Qualifications Commission, said director Ronnie Joe Lane resigned Monday, the same day the Daily Report published details of Lane’s billing arrangement with the commission. The JQC polices the state’s judges and can recommend disciplinary action, including removal from office, if they stray from the state Code of Judicial Conduct.
“He has decided he wants to step down,” Tate said Monday afternoon. “Ronnie Joe does not want any cloud whatsoever … over the commission and over him. He served honorably in the military and honorably on the bench, and I think he did on the commission as well. He doesn’t want to be a distraction from the work we do.”
Tate said that Lane also asked—and Tate agreed—to waive the 60-day written notification required in order to terminate his JQC contract.
Tate said that he also is “taking every step to make sure that [ethics] cases are continuing to be moved, whatever their stage … and taking every step to make sure they are processed appropriately.”
Reached by telephone, Lane said he had no comment.
Lane retired as a Superior Court Judge in the Pataula Circuit last summer when JQC director Jeff Davis left the agency to become the executive director of the State Bar of Georgia.
In order to remain eligible to collect his judicial retirement—an estimated $84,000 a year—Lane told the Daily Report he billed the JQC $120 an hour for an estimated 20 hours per week of work, even though he was working at least 40 hours a week. State law (O.C.G.A. § 47-23-109) allows a state retiree who goes back to work for the state as either an employee or a contractor to collect retirement pay only if the retiree “performs no more than 1,040 hours of such service in any calendar year”—or about 20 hours a week.
Lane contended that any work he performed beyond 20 hours a week was donated to the state and therefore did not violate the 1,040-hour rule.
The executive director of the Judicial Retirement System told the Daily Report last week that the question of whether a retiree can write off as volunteer work any hours that exceed the 1,040-hour annual cap is “getting into a gray area” and that a state agency that hires a retired judge is supposed to report the hours he or she works. Neither the JQC nor Lane formally notified the employee retirement system in writing of Lane’s arrangement or the hours he anticipated working, another requirement of the state pension law.
In interviews with the Daily Report last week, the chairman of the Georgia House Judiciary Committee, a former JQC chairman and an Emory University ethics professor expressed serious reservations about Lane’s arrangement.
Lane’s resignation followed a commission meeting on Friday. Afterward, Tate wrote a letter asking James Potvin, the head of the state employee retirement system, for guidance as to whether the JQC’s contract with Lane was appropriate.
Tate told Potvin the JQC had only recently become aware of the state law setting the 1,040-hour cap. “Judge Lane is of the opinion that this limitation only relates to the number of hours of service for which he is paid,” Tate wrote. “Realizing that the job of director may require more than 1,040 hours of service in a calendar year, it was Judge Lane’s belief that he could donate, pro bono, any additional hours of service needed to perform his duties so long as he was only compensated for 1,040 hours.”
Tate did not mention in his letter that Lane was being paid the previous director’s full-time salary for what was, at least on paper, part-time hours.
“Is Judge Lane still entitled to collect his pension under this agreement?” Tate asked. “Are there any implications to the commission and its budget for employing Judge Lane in this manner?”
The Daily Report also made inquiries about Lane’s expenses before his departure on Monday. In five of his first nine months on the job, Lane sought more than $7,000 in reimbursements, more than double the $6,205 that Davis billed for all of fiscal year 2014. Those expenses included reimbursements for his 520-mile round-trip commute from his Donalsonville home to the JQC’s office in Monroe. Tate told the newspaper that if Lane billed the JQC to commute “just to get to the office,” he did not believe it was an appropriate expense.
On Monday, Tate said that whether Lane should have billed the commission remains “a point of disagreement.”
“It was not the intent of the commission to pay round trip for what I call a pure commute,” he said. He would not comment on whether Lane was asked to repay the JQC for the reimbursed mileage.
Judicial Ethics Chief’s Billing Deal Called Troubling, Risky