ATLANTA (Legal Newsline) - The Georgia Supreme Court on Monday ordered the removal of a magistrate judge who allegedly smoked marijuana, made derogatory remarks about a fellow judge and threatened to shoot himself, among other things.
An investigation by the Judicial Qualifications Commission into Catoosa County Magistrate Judge Anthony Peters began after Chief Magistrate Judge Sonny Caldwell received numerous complaints about Peters' alleged misconduct.
Following the JQC's investigation -- and after Peters appeared before the JQC in October to discuss the allegations -- the commission filed formal charges with the state's high court to have Peters permanently removed and barred from ever seeking an elected or appointed judicial office in the state.
The commission found that Peters:
- Violated Canon 2 of the Code of Judicial Conduct by obtaining and consuming marijuana at least once a week from March to May 2010;
- Inappropriately used his judicial office to advance the personal interests of a family member -- also in violation of Canon 2 -- by showing up at the house of his sister-in-law's estranged husband, identifying himself as a magistrate judge and kicking in two bedroom doors in the man's home;
- Violated Canon 2 when, in the spring of 2009 in the Catoosa County Courthouse, he pointed a firearm at himself and told another magistrate judge that he wasn't afraid to die;
- Violated Canon 2 by appearing on a local cable television show called "Night Talk" on June 21, 2010 and (a) making derogatory remarks about the Chief Magistrate Judge, calling him "spineless," (b) publicly disclosing that he filed a complaint with the JQC against the Chief Magistrate Judge, and (c) displaying a photograph of an individual and identifying that individual by name as a confidential informant of the Catoosa County Sheriff's Office;
- Again violated Canon 2 by making a phone call to the local cable television talk show on June 22, 2010, and, after initially trying to disguise his voice with multiple foreign accents while speaking with the Catoosa County Sheriff, who was being interviewed on the show, told the sheriff that he had "crapped himself" and that the sheriff was a "spineless jelly spine;"
- Violated Canon 3(B)(1) and OCGA § 15-10-21 by refusing to work certain hours that had been specifically assigned to him by the Chief Magistrate Judge; and
- Based on all of the proven allegations, violated Canon 1, which requires judges to "establish, maintain and enforce high standards of conduct... so that the integrity and independence of the judiciary may be preserved."
Under the Georgia Constitution, any judge may be removed, suspended or otherwise disciplined for willful misconduct in office... or for conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice "which brings the judicial office into disrepute."
The Court, in its seven-page per curium opinion, agreed with the JQC's recommendation. It ordered Peters be immediately and permanently removed from the bench and be barred from seeking judicial office in Georgia.
The evidence, the Court said, "clearly establishes" the violations of Canons 1, 2 and 3 of the Code of Judicial Conduct.
"Judge Peters readily admitted to much of the misconduct at the JQC hearing, but simply believed that he had been disciplined 'enough' by having been placed on paid administrative leave since June 16, 2010," it wrote.
The Court noted that Peters also has not sought treatment for his admitted drug problems and has done nothing to show that he has any ability to "live up to the high standard of conduct expected of members of the judiciary in Georgia."
"Indeed, after using illegal drugs, forcibly kicking in doors at a man's home at the request of a relative, pulling out a gun in front of at least one of his colleagues, and being suspended from his job for refusing to work hours properly assigned to him, Judge Peters consistently refused to take responsibility for his actions," it wrote.
"Instead, he spent his time while on administrative leave publicly disparaging the Chief Magistrate Judge and the Sheriff of Catoosa County and endangering the life of a confidential informant by exposing his identity."
Such willful misconduct, the Court wrote, is "clearly prejudicial to the administration of justice (and) brings the judicial office into disrepute."
"The public deserves much more from its judicial officers, and those judicial officers who cannot give the public what it deserves -- confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary -- do not deserve to continue to hold judicial office," it concluded.
From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.