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Local News

Georgia Senate panel OKs bill to erase personal information of judges from public records

During a State of the Judiciary address on Feb. 7, Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael P. Boggs referenced the need to pass a law restricting public records containing home addresses and other personally identifiable information of judges. (Credit: Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder)

Stanley Dunlap, Georgia Recorder
February 21, 2024

A state Senate Committee Wednesday advanced a bill endorsed by Georgia’s top judiciary and law enforcement agencies that would restrict public access to personal information about judges and their spouses.

The Senate Public Safety Committee unanimously passed Senate Bill 508 on Wednesday, a measure intended to protect judges from threats made against them and their families. More than 30 states have passed or are considering similar laws that limit public records of addresses, telephone numbers and other identifying information of judges.

The Senate Rules Committee will decide whether the legislation will be heard by the full Senate.

Under the new law, the Administrative Office of the Courts would create and maintain a database of protected judges and personally identifiable information. In addition, the judicial office would coordinate training for security procedures and keep track of which local and state government agencies have access to the confidential information.

The bill is sponsored by Republican Sen. Clint Dixon, who was among several Georgia lawmakers who had police officers show up at their homes at Christmas time because of hoax 911 calls claiming that someone’s life was in danger.

Dixon’s children were playing with toys they received as presents when police arrived at his Gwinnett County home carrying rifles on Christmas night.

“This is a bipartisan issue and it’s a public safety issue,” Dixon said at Wednesday’s committee meeting.

New Jersey would become a state leader in the movement over the last few years to erase from public records the addresses of judges, prosecutors and law enforcement officers following a gunman’s murder in 2020 of a 20-year-old son and injury to the husband of a U.S. District Court judge.

A judicial security committee created about a year ago by the Georgia Supreme Court recommended that judges and their spouses should have the ability to limit the public disclosure of where they live and their cell phone numbers.

The security committee was led by state Supreme Court Justice Shawn Ellen LaGrua and Court of Appeals Judge Brian Rickman and was represented by leaders from the state’s law enforcement agencies.

Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael P. Boggs said that the protections provided to judges in the measure can be replicated for other public officials.

“We know that y’all are dealing with similar challenges, which have become all too real for too many of you in recent weeks,” Boggs said during his Feb. 7 State of the Judiciary address to Georgia lawmakers. “While some of our security measures are specific to the judiciary, many are more broadly applicable.”

Any legislation that would restrict the access to public records receives a strong vetting from free speech advocates like the Georgia First Amendment Foundation. SB 508 is tailored in a way that protects judges and their families without stepping over the line of the public’s right to view records of public officials, said Richard T. Griffiths, spokesman and president emeritus for the Georgia foundation.

“In this case the Legislature is trying to balance the needs for safety versus the public’s right to know,” he said. “We hope they will continue to do it in a very fine-tuned, narrow way and not use a sledgehammer that causes a lot of damage to the Open Records Act.”

The Georgia Legislature is also considering increasing the criminal penalties for swatting public officials. Lt. Gov. Burt Jones, a Butts County Republican, has said one of his top priorities is to make the act of swatting a felony under Georgia law.

Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John McCosh for questions: info@georgiarecorder.com. Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.

This article is republished from Georgia Recorder under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.