Earlier this year Cartersville Attorney Lester Tate won the Charles L. Weltner Freedom of Information Award from the Georgia First Amendment Foundation in recognition of his work on the Judicial Qualifications Commission for the state of Georgia.
Tate, who has served on the JQC for four years and is its vice chair, was one of 11 people to win the award. In a May 1 press release, the GFAF said the commission deserved its award by issuing an opinion, “which aggressively reinforced the importance of open judicial proceedings in Georgia.” The opinion, known as Opinion 239, was intended to inform judges on the importance of keeping courtroom proceedings open to the public.
“What happened with this was we got a ton of complaints from various individuals, ranging from simply family members of people who were involved in court proceedings to reporters who were trying to cover court proceedings, that they couldn’t get in the courtroom [and] that there were signs on the courtroom doors — ‘Defendants and lawyers only’ — or that a courtroom had been closed or cleared out. That kind of thing,” he said. “The U.S. Supreme Court actually held in a case coming out of Georgia that, absent specific findings — and there’s certain reasons that you can close a courtroom — but absent specific findings that it needs to be closed for some special purpose, the default position is the courtroom ought to be open and it ought to be where any member of the public can walk in and can observe the proceedings. Because that’s part of what engenders public confidence in the proceedings — that they’re able to watch them and know what goes on. Continue>>>