Judicial oversight panel gets budget restored, loses director
Georgia’s Judicial Qualifications Commission got the bulk of a hefty budget cut restored for 2011, but it will lose its longtime director, former Rockdale County District Attorney Cheryl Fisher Custer.
Custer announced today that she is resigning after 11 years on the job, but will stay on until the commission hires a replacement.
Her role with the commission had become entangled with the agency’s budget request for next year, as legislators questioned whether her annual salary ($82,560) was too high for what the commission regards as part-time work. The Georgia House proposed cutting the tiny agency’s budget by $100,000 — more than a third of its 2010 allotment — and observed that the commission should make the best use of its meager resources before asking for more money.
“I think $80,000 a year should get you full-time work,” House Speaker David Ralston told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Carrie Teegardin in January. “I think that’s what Georgians would expect.”
Custer declined to say today whether the spat is playing a role in her departure: “It’s just time to move on.”
A House-Senate conference committee last week negotiated a 2011 budget of $251,749 for the JQC, Custer said. That’s $25,000 less than Gov. Sonny Perdue had requested.
In a prepared statement, she said:
[T]he constant increases in the caseload and duties of the Commission during this time, and particularly in the past year, have made fulfilling my obligations to both my family and the Commission difficult if not impossible. Simply put, I have concluded that it is time to pass the torch on to a successor.
Custer took the JQC job in 1999 for what both she and the commission describe as part-time work. However, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has reported that state personnel records list her as full time.
The JQC is responsible for training and oversight of Georgia’s 1,800 judges, many of whom are not lawyers. The agency has gained a higher profile in recent months with the resignations of five Superior Court judges in the Mountain, Griffin and Muscogee circuits in the midst of JQC investigations.