Judge denies Harris Lewis’ bid to protect bond in missing Probate Court funds case (GA)

A visiting judge on Friday denied a request by Chatham County Probate Judge Harris Lewis that the county be barred from surrendering his $100,000 bond in a dispute over missing money from the court until a judicial determination of the facts in the case.

The action by Superior Court Judge Albert Rahn III of Reidsville came during a hearing involving a $100,000 bond held against Lewis by Gov. Nathan Deal, which county attorneys contend is insufficient to satisfy potential claims stemming from alleged misconduct by former longtime Clerk Kim Birge.

Attached to the county’s documents is an affidavit from William Teague with the governor’s executive council office authorizing the county to “take whatever acts are necessary” to call in the bond.

Also attached is an affidavit from Chatham County Commission Chairman Al Scott that the commission on Feb. 13 authorized the county attorney’s office “to call the bond” on Lewis and held in Deal’s name.

The county is asking that the present bond be increased to $400,000 against claims for unaccounted funds in the court.

Lewis, a five-term Probate Court judge, fired Birge, 60, on Dec. 2 amid a federal-state investigation of missing money in the court. She was barred from returning to court.

The county contends that Lewis was responsible for Birge’s actions and has admitted that she stole the money. As a result, the county is involved in “numerous cases and legal controversies” involving Lewis and does not believe the present bond will be sufficient to repay all of the missing money.

Lewis, represented by attorney Noble Boykin, contends that Georgia law provides that without a bond in place, he is not authorized to perform judicial function and that the county is “attempting to subvert the will of the voters who have duly elected Harris Lewis … and so as to effectively present him from serving the remainder of his term.”

He wants a temporary restraining order to halt action against the bond by the county and Travelers Casualty and Surety Company of America from paying the bond to Chatham County until there is a final judicial determination.

County attorney Jon Hart and Jennifer Burns earlier asked the court to declare that Lewis and Birge are not county employees in a bid to distance the county from pending suits over money Birge allegedly stole from the court.

The action, filed in Chatham County Superior Court, asked a judge to “determine that the county is not responsible for judgments rendered against either Kim Birge or Harris Lewis, either in his or her official capacity.”

The same document includes the admission by Lewis that “defendant Birge stole the money, based on his personal knowledge.”

Rahn, who presides in the neighboring Atlantic Judicial Circuit, was called in to handle the litigation after the six local Superior Court judges removed themselves.


Judge denies Harris Lewis’ bid to protect bond in missing Probate Court funds case
Jan Skutch
April 11, 2015
Savannah Morning News