Monday, November 16, 2020

No Lifetime Ban

The Georgia Supreme Court dismissed a complaint against a former judge

The complaint alleged that Crawford violated CJC Rule 1.1 in two ways: (1) by “impermissibly converting money from the registry of the Superior Court of Pike County . . . when he ordered the Pike County Clerk via handwritten note to disburse $15,675.62 in funds from the court registry to him via check” and “then cashed and used a portion of the check for his personal benefit and deposited the remainder of this money in his personal checking account,” although he later returned the funds; and (2) by “failing to follow the proper procedure for the disbursement of funds, even if the money had been his, as required by law,” noting the certification requirement for withdrawal of funds from a court registry contained in Uniform Superior Court Rule 23. In 2002, when Crawford was in private practice, he had deposited the funds into the registry from his client trust account in connection with a lawsuit. The JQC complaint acknowledged that Crawford claimed that at least some of the money was owed to him as attorney fees and expenses. The complaint sought Crawford’s removal from office but not a ban on seeking or holding judicial office in the future.

Dismissal of the charges

First, as noted in Division 2 above, the evidence that Crawford impermissibly converted the funds from the court registry is not overwhelming. Second, the alleged misconduct did not directly involve Crawford’s exercise of his judicial duties; to the contrary, the Hearing Panel specifically found that the Director failed to prove that Crawford had “len[t] the prestige of [his] office to advance [his] private interests” in connection with the disbursement of the funds as required to support the additional charge of violating CJC Rule 1.3. Third, Crawford voluntarily removed himself from office by resigning, which was the very sanction sought in the formal complaint and recommended by the Hearing Panel. Finally, Crawford’s plea agreement prohibits him from seeking or holding judicial office while he is on probation, and there is no indication in the record or in Crawford’s filings in this Court that he plans to seek a judgeship at any point in the future.

There is a concurring opinion by Justice Blackwell

I have some doubt that this Court is constitutionally authorized to impose a lifetime disqualification from judicial office as discipline for judicial misconduct.  Consistent with that doubt, I concur fully in the decision to dismiss the case against Judge Crawford.

(Mike Frisch)

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