By Becca J.G. Godwin, AJC
Last week, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution published an investigation in collaboration with The Georgia News Lab that detailed how metro Atlanta judges hand out fines and judgments every day to people in their courts, but have a terrible record complying with ethics laws that govern their own conduct.
Channel 2’s Jodie Fleischer provides another look into how what started as a student project to investigate metro-Atlanta judges led to action from Georgia's ethics director and repayment of thousands of dollars owed in back fines.
Fleischer spoke with students from Georgia State University and Morehouse College about the reporting process. Students who worked on the project also hailed from the University of Georgia and Emory University.
"I feel like judges are like everyone else and they should follow the rules," said Lauren Booker, a Georgia News Lab student from Georgia State University.
The Channel 2 segment shows an interview with DeKalb Superior Court Judge Clarence F. Seeliger, who applauded the student’s work.
“I’m just dumbfounded,” Seeliger said. “I think when the attention’s brought to them, they ought to be paying as soon as possible. That’s part of our responsibilities as judges.”
Seeliger — who has been a judge for more than 35 years — paid a fine of $125 after he learned he had not filed his personal disclosure on time.
He said judges need more training on their disclosure requirements, but made no excuses for not meeting deadlines or paying penalties.
“Especially judges,” he said. “We do impose sanctions against other people for failing to perform, so if we don’t perform, we should be willing to take the punishment.”