County election board appoints new attorney

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The appearance of a possible conflict of interest led the Bartow County Board of Elections and Voter Registration to hold a called meeting to replace its attorney.

“This is short, sweet and to the point,” said Elections Supervisor Joseph Kirk. “We were a little concerned with Commissioner Steve Taylor being on the ballot this time and Peter Olson, the board’s attorney also being the county administrator {who works for Taylor}, it might present a conflict-of-interest.”

In order to avoid any appearance of conflict, Kirk asked the board members to replace Olson with Lester Tate, also a Cartersville attorney. But one board member, Mike Powell, demurred, citing Tate’s recent “issues” with state government.

“Are ya’ll familiar with the issue down at the state capitol with him?” Powell asked. “I can’t vote for him because of that.”

“What is the issue?” board member Ken Cathcart asked.

“Uhh, you will have to look it up on your own,” Powell replied. “There’s just some issues going on at the capitol right now.”

The issue that Powell is apparently referring to occurred in early April, when Tate, the chair of the Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC), an independent commission charged with removing bad judges from office, resigned, claiming legislative leaders were trying to take over the commission in order to protect their friends on the bench.

When the state created the commission in 1972, it was designed to act independently to investigate allegations of judicial misconduct and removing judges from office if the accusations are confirmed.

"If you go into court now," Tate told 11 Alive News, "and the judge doesn't even consider your side, the judge violates rules of ethics, you need to have a place that will judge the judge. In the past eight years, the commission has removed more than 60 judges from the bench...legislators have come forward and just said, point blank, to folks, 'We don't like the way you've treated judges that we like. And for that reason, we're going to abolish you.'”

In his resignation letter, Tate said he was resigning due to a series of attacks on the JQC and its authority, citing a proposed constitutional amendment in the legislature that would abolish, then recreate the commission.

“The power of the commission to carry out its appointed work has been compromised in a way that renders it totally ineffective,” Tate wrote. “Any disciplinary action which the commission now undertakes will simply be met with delay in the hopes that political considerations, rather than the facts and the law, will govern the outcome. I cannot in good conscience continue to participate in a charade that offers the promise of judicial integrity when, in truth, the actions of others have rendered the fulfillment of that promise an impossibility.”

The board approved Tate’s appointment with Powell dissenting. Powell and Tate declined to comment on the story.