Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Thunder Road

The Georgia Supreme Court rejected a number a stipulated violations and reprimanded a judge for improperly dismissing cases involving proffered guilty pleas

The court concludes that this stipulation did not establish misconduct

As for the facts underlying these charges, Judge Baker acknowledges in the discipline by consent agreement that in May 2015, she had a court security officer drive his personal vehicle to a store to pick up alcoholic beverages and deliver them to a private event celebrating Judge Baker’s appointment to the bench; that around September 2016, she had a court security officer drive his personal vehicle from the courthouse to a store in Cobb County to pick up a chair and deliver it to the judge’s personal residence in Atlanta; that the following month, she had a staff member assist her in returning the chair by driving to the judge’s residence, where the judge loaded the chair into the staff member’s vehicle, and then driving to the store while the judge followed in her own vehicle, which the staff member claimed caused her to get behind on her daily work assignments; and that on a Friday afternoon in June 2018, Judge Baker emailed two staff members and requested that one of them bring her robe, robe bag, and a stole from the courthouse to her personal residence for an event “unrelated to court business” that Sunday, and that a staff member delivered the items later that afternoon.

Judge Baker also acknowledges that from May 2015 through October 2019, she periodically asked staff members to contribute their own money to an office fund, to which Judge Baker also contributed, to purchase food and other items for communal use in chambers, to shop for the items, and, on one occasion, to return an item. Judge Baker further acknowledges that evidence exists with which the Director could properly prove that from July through November 2016, she had the staff member who helped her return the chair use the staff member’s personal vehicle to drive Judge Baker to attend private events and to run errands unrelated to court or city business.

Misconduct or not

In any event, we need not address these issues further, because whether or not we consider these counts, we would conclude that a public reprimand is an appropriate sanction in this matter for the reasons stated below.

In court

Judge Baker acknowledges that her dissatisfaction with the factual basis for guilty pleas presented by the assistant city solicitor was not a legal basis for dismissing criminal charges, that she instead should have simply rejected the pleas, and that her failure to do so violated clearly established law.

Rejected stipulated violations

Judge Baker acknowledges that she periodically contacted the Solicitor to provide both positive and negative feedback on the performance of prosecutors in her courtroom and on several occasions requested that he remove prosecutors from assignment to her courtroom. The discipline by consent agreement characterizes these communications as improper “meddling” with the personnel decisions of the Solicitor. But there is no indication that Judge Baker took, or threatened to take, any adverse action on cases unless the Solicitor took some specific action.

The agreement cites no authority, and we have found none, to support the view that the communications as alleged violate Rule 1.2 (A).

For the accepted misconduct

Having reviewed the record, the Court now accepts the discipline by consent agreement and orders that Judge JaDawnya Baker receive a public reprimand for her periodic improper dismissal of cases presented to her for guilty pleas.

(Mike Frisch)

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/legal_profession/2022/03/the-georgia-supreme-court-as-for-the-facts-underlying-these-charges-judge-baker-acknowledges-in-the-discipline-by-consent-a.html

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