GA judicial misconduct

Rash of judges stepping down after misconduct
Bill Torpy/Bill Rankin
August 22, 2010
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
http://www.ajc.com/news/rash-of-judges-stepping-596966.html
One sent a message over Facebook to a criminal defendant, saying he’d give her behind-the-scenes advice on her case. Another was caught having sex in a parked car with the public defender assigned to his courtroom. Another inappropriately touched a prosecutor and investigator after they sat in his lap posing for a photo.

These were not defendants. All three were chief judges in their circuits with decades on the bench.

Since 2008, at least 16 judges across the state have resigned under duress, most recently two veteran chief judges from Cobb and Fulton counties. Some stepped down under a cloud of suspicion. Others left amid scandal or even outright criminality.

Allegations include sexual improprieties, harassment, voter fraud, giving state computers to family members and gross intemperance on the bench.

Why is there so much disorder in the courts?

“This is the worst rash of judicial misconduct I’ve ever seen,” said former Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Norman Fletcher. “There have been far too many, and it doesn’t reflect well on the judiciary. You can’t explain some of this conduct.”

Judges haven’t just started misbehaving, court watchers say. The news of one sensational case after another has created a snowball effect, prompting more complaints being filed with the Judicial Qualifications Commission, the state agency that investigates judges. Those complaints are also being investigated more efficiently, leading to quicker resolutions.

This month, Cobb County Superior Court Chief Judge Kenneth Nix abruptly announced he would leave Oct. 6 and admitted he had “flicked” the two women’s bottoms while they sat in his lap for a photo. The women countered in a public statement that it was no playful touch, it was a “sex crime.”

In Fulton, State Court Chief Judge A.L. Thompson, on the bench 30 years, notified the governor by letter Aug. 5 that “it is time to move on.” Thompson insists he was not being investigated for malfeasance. But judges have long complained about Thompson’s absences, and electronic parking garage records provided to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution showed he came to the courthouse just 56 days in a seven-month period.

Last week, Thompson issued a statement saying the JQC had not “interviewed” him nor had the JQC disciplined him. He declined to say whether he had met with a JQC investigator before announcing he would step down on Sept. 6. The judge, in an interview, noted health issues have long bedeviled him.

Superior Court Judge Frank Mills III, chief of the Cherokee County circuit, said judges have noticed the resignations. “I think we’re all bewildered by it; we all talk about it,” he said. “But most of these cases are not similar, so it’s hard to say there’s any trend.”

It’s not unusual for judges to make enemies, given the gravity of their decisions, such as assigning child custody and sentencing people to prison. Because judges are so powerful, few people are willing to file complaints against them.

“Think about the inherent nature of a judge; how many people will be critical of you?” asked Habersham County District Attorney Brian Rickman, who investigated one judge in his circuit and watched as another’s career disintegrated. “Most people, like lawyers and court employees, try to keep you happy. There’s a danger of too many people trying to kiss your butt.”

But increased efforts by the JQC seem to be getting results.

“The recent spate of resignations is a radical difference from what happened five years ago,” said John Mrosek, a Fayetteville lawyer who twice ran unsuccessfully against Judge Johnnie Caldwell. The judge resigned this year following allegations he repeatedly sexually harassed a female attorney.

“How many people witnessed Caldwell and [Chief Superior Court Judge Paschal] English doing what they did and turned a blind eye?” Mrosek asked. “Once there’s a psychology of not following the rules, it pervades everything.”

English resigned abruptly in April amid revelations he was having an affair with then-public defender Kim Cornwell, who had hundreds of cases before the judge.

Both Caldwell and English resigned soon after meeting with JQC investigator Richard Hyde.

A year ago, Hyde, a former Atlanta police detective, was given authority by the JQC board to confront judges with allegations and his investigative findings and negotiate a quick resignation if warranted.

That was the case in the resignations of Caldwell and English, Mrosek said. “[The JQC] came in, pointed a pistol at them and said, ‘Easy way or hard way.’ ”

Hyde, he added, “is traveling around the state collecting scalps.”

Hyde declined comment.

Most judges choose to resign when confronted rather than go through the embarrassing process of having the commission bring formal, and public, charges against them. If they resign, the allegations often remain secret, which has brought criticism of the agency.

Some judges fight the charges and go to trial, with the Georgia Supreme Court issuing a final opinion. In the case of Twiggs County Probate Judge Kenneth Fowler, witnesses at his trial said Fowler swore at defendants, ordered parties to “shut up,” referred to African-Americans as “colored” and required defendants to prove their innocence.

“His ignorance of the law is inexcusable, and his abuse of his judicial office unacceptable,” the state Supreme Court said in June, removing Fowler.

The commission has been increasingly aggressive since 2008, when South Georgia judges Brooks E. Blitch III and Berrien Sutton resigned after the JQC brought corruption charges against them.

“That has heightened the interest in the role of the JQC,” said Robert Ingram, a lawyer and one of the JQC’s seven commissioners. “I think that leads to more cases being filed. People who may have had a complaint may have thought the JQC would [now] take it seriously.”

Some complain the JQC acts too slowly. Joe Hendricks, a district attorney in North Georgia, said that it took almost 10 months for the agency to bring formal counts of misconduct against Superior Court Judge Oliver Harris “Harry” Doss Jr. He was accused of taking state computers for his family, insulting and threatening court staff and repeatedly failing to rule on cases, backlogging the system.

JQC probes are secret, “but a lot of people at the courthouse were aware of the investigation because several people were questioned,” Hendricks said. “This hung over our heads for nine of 10 months. Those months were very difficult. … There’s kids awaiting a decision on their custody, defendants waiting for a trial. There’s too many lives hanging.”

The judge resigned in December. Hendricks said that, with Doss no longer on the bench, senior judges closed 1,314 cases the first half of 2010, 302 more than the same time last year with Doss on the bench.

Ingram acknowledged the system can be slow, but noted the JQC has an annual budget of about $250,000 and a state judiciary with more than 1,800 members. “I think Georgia’s budget is the smallest of all 50 states when compared to the number of judges,” he said.

Muscogee Superior Court Judge John D. Allen, the JQC’s vice chair, expects the number of judges leaving abruptly will “play out for a period of time.” But the publicity might prompt some wayward judges to clean up their act.

“It’s not a message we’re trying to send. But, yeah, it’s a deterrent.”

Share
News
  • Deana Jordan

    I hate to keep bothering you but I think I found a kink in the judge’s “judicial immunity” armor!

    Thinking back to the day the judge ordered my arrest, I recall that after I requested a jury trial, the judge refused to answer any questions or engage in any dialogue with me whatsoever stating that he no longer had jurisdiction over me.

    If he no longer had jurisdiction over me then he was acting outside his jurisdictional authority when he ordered me to remain seated until the conclusion of the other hearings he was conducting that day. After the conclusion of the hearings (and again outside the parameters of his jurisdiction) he ordered the police to take me into custody. Acting outside his judicial authority is an exception to judicial immunity!

    Facts:

    On December 7, 2010, while driving through the city of Leslie, Georgia, I was pulled over by a City of Leslie policeman and issued a citation for speeding. On February 9, 2011, per the citation’s instructions, I appeared at the Leslie Municipal City Hall in front of Judge NeSmith. Prior to the hearing I was given a form to sign waiving my right to a jury trial and my right to the presumption of innocence. Upon being called upon to stand before Judge NeSmith, I told Judge NeSmith that I did not want to waive my rights and requested a jury trial. Judge NeSmith got real short and nasty with me and ordered the police officers (present at the time) to take me into custody. I was, at that time, no longer free to leave the building and was told to sit until all the hearings were concluded at which point a police officer placed me in handcuffs, put me in the back of his squad car and drove me to the Sumter County jail where I was searched, photographed, finger printed, and locked up until I posted a $300 dollar bail plus $80 in non-refundable administrative costs. I called my 80-year-old mother who was able to post my bond and get me out of jail. According to Baker v. The State, I never should have been incarcerated as I was in possession of my legally valid drivers license. Absolutely nothing changed from the time of the issuance of the speeding citation to the time I appeared in front of Judge NeSmith and yet, Judge NeSmith ordered my incarceration. I believe Judge NeSmith ordered my incarceration in retaliation for requesting a jury trial, and to make an example of me in front of the other people in the courtroom that day (also for speeding violations). I believe Judge NeSmith violated my civil rights by ordering my incarceration as a punishment for not waiving my constitutional rights and requesting a jury trial. Currently, I am scheduled for an arraignment in the State Court of Sumter County on March 23, 2011 at 9:00 a.m.

    I am primarily looking for an attorney to bring a civil rights action on my behalf for the false imprisonment. If I could find a firm to represent me on the speeding charge that would be fine, but if your firm only wants to bring the civil rights action for the false imprisonment, that’s okay with me (I plan to request a public defender at the time of the arraignment).

    My name is Deana Jordan. You can reach me at jjeannie61@yahoo.com or 229-223-0114

  • http://AreyouF'ingseriousF. tineygilcrease

    THAT JUDGE giving someone advice about judicial ethics is like Judas colding someone for lack of piety. He and his buds are the fathers of lies, the protectors of bores and sows with law degrees. He and his ilk, acting judges, retired judges, politicos, and facualty members block fundamentally sound, analytically justified efforts to clean up the good old boy system of putting courrput judges on the trial benches in Georgia. The legal fiction of judicial immunity has been insidiously forged, and forged is the right word, into a protective shield for professional criminals, as well as a mafia market for trading judicial decisions at trial and on appeal. Knowingly, with a snicker, the old boys have waged war on your Bill of Rights. All the while, THAT JUDGE has filled his pockets with his pension, the odd consultation fee, and this or that former-justice or of-counsel, “position” with the most egregious, and some believe most felonious, of the bores and sows in the lot. There is nothing left but to find the right case and sue Georgia, and five or six judges personally, under principles of international law, and precedents laid down at the 1946 and 47 trials of Nazi jurist ; specifically, for denying parties due process, an impartial jurist, by sitting in cases where they know that written, common, and natural law require that the judge recuse sua sponte based on his or her own personal knowledge of relevant facts and law. Start looking for some cases, network, work pro bono. Batter the courthouse doors down with case after case after case. Yes, sue under international law, and call every news outlet about every case. Bury these phony, racket protecting doctrines in its own excrement. Bring recusal motions in every case. Presrent a discovery motion in every case asking the judge to disclose every arguable ground for his or her recusal. Find good cases to support 1983 actions against judgez for kowing, intentional, deliberate, premeditated, felonious denial of a party’s Constitutional Right to due process. Notwithstanding all self serving and intellectually dishonest decisions to the contrary, it can not be Constitutionally possible, let alone tolerated, that a judge can have judicial immunity for his or her own cirminal act committed in the course of a legal proceeding. A judge does not have discretion or immunity to sit in a proceeding, ex parte, at trial, or on appeal, when he or she has personal knowledge of facts and law which the judge knows require him or her to recuse in the proceeding sua sponte, just as, and for the same reasons, a judge can not possibly have judicial immunity for feloniously throwing a two pound gavel from the bench and intentionally striking a party in the head. Both acts constitute a felony. There is no law, no matter how hard some judge dishonestly but artfully twists and turns words, that provides a judge with immunity for committing a felony in the course of a legal proceeding. If judge says or rules otherwise, he is an enemy of the State, a dangerous fool, or both. Moreover, if he or she makes such and opinion an order of his or her court, he or she has committed an act of subversive war on the Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution, and should be forthwith indicted for the act. Futhermore, the judge should be subjected to a fast track civil suit by the injured party. You would not tell a closed head injury sufferer, “sorry, the judge was still on the bench when he bashed your brains in, so you can’t sue hem.” Bullshit. Bring these arrogant, crooked bastards down. If anyone can prove that any such action by a judge has resulted in the wrongful death of a person, directly or forseeabley, the judge should be subject to indictment for a capital offense, treason, and further, subjected to civil suit for wrongful death.

  • Dee

    Hello Deana! You were captured and imprisioned without any probable cause whatsover. These are acts of war – not civil rights violations. Acts of war constitute the high felony of TREASON against the State of Georgia. Prosecute the judge for TREASON and put him in jail. He also loses his job.