Georgia Supreme Court: Coomer, a state Court of Appeals Judge, suspended with pay as fraud accusations are reviewed.

Georgia Supreme Court: Coomer, a state Court of Appeals Judge, suspended with pay as fraud accusations are reviewed.

Previously: Former State Rep. Christian Coomer (left) is sworn in by Gov. Nathan Deal as the newest judge to the Georgia Court of Appeals. Next to Coomer is his wife, Heidi. (Photo: John Disney/ALM)

THE LATEST

The Supreme Court of Georgia on Wednesday issued an order regarding the suspension of Judge Christian Coomer of the Georgia Court of Appeals: 

On January 5, 2021, the Investigative Panel of the Judicial
Qualifications Commission (JQC) filed a consent motion pursuant to
JQC Rule 15 (C) to suspend Judge Christian Coomer of the Court of
Appeals of Georgia pending the final determination of the JQC
proceeding against him.

The motion attached as an exhibit the
Formal Charges filed by the Director of the JQC against Judge
Coomer on December 28, 2020, which allege 26 violations of the
Georgia Code of Judicial Conduct. In the motion, the Investigative
Panel represents that it can and is prepared to present verified
evidence to this Court that the allegations in the Formal Charges
are supported by evidence and show that Judge Coomer
demonstrated a pattern of misconduct over the course of several
years, so that his continued service on his court until the case
against him is resolved poses a substantial threat of serious harm to
the administration of justice, which is the standard set by Rule 15
(C) for an interim suspension.

The motion further represents that Judge Coomer admits – conditionally and solely for the purposes of
the motion – that the Director could prove that the allegations in the
Formal Charges are supported by evidence and that Judge Coomer
agrees that those allegations, if taken as true, warrant his interim
suspension under the standard set forth in JQC Rule 15 (C).

The motion, its attached exhibit, and the representations made
by the parties satisfy the standard for an interim suspension under
JQC Rule 15 (C). Accordingly, this Court hereby suspends Judge
Coomer with pay pending the final determination of the JQC’s
proceeding against him.

The previous motion to suspend filed by the Investigative
Panel on December 29, 2020 is dismissed as moot.
Melton, C.J., Nahmias, P.J., and Boggs, Peterson, Warren,
Bethel, Ellington, and McMillian, JJ., concur.
SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF GEORGI

 


FROM JAN. 4

The Georgia Court of Appeals announces Senior Judge Herbert Phipps will return to the Court of Appeals and assume the duties of Judge Christian Coomer. All of Judge Coomer’s cases and responsibilities will be transferred to Judge Phipps effective January 4, 2021. Senior Judge Phipps was appointed to the Court of Appeals in July 1999 by Governor Roy Barnes. Since his retirement in 2016, this will be the third time Judge Phipps will assist the Court of Appeals by filling a temporary vacancy. The Court is tremendously grateful and appreciative of Judge Phipps willingness to assist and continue to serve the citizens of Georgia.

Coomer has taken a voluntary suspension following last week’s disclosures. Below please see the latest from Georgia’s Supreme Court:


The Honorable Georgia Supreme Court met pursuant to adjournment. The following order was passed:

INQUIRY CONCERNING JUDGE CHRISTIAN COOMER

Rule 15 (C) of the Rules of the Judicial Qualifications
Commission of Georgia (JQC) provides in pertinent part that this
Court may suspend a judge with pay pending a final determination
in any proceeding under the JQC Rules “upon motion by the [JQC’s]
Investigative Panel and receipt of sufficient evidence demonstrating
that [the] judge poses a substantial threat of serious harm to the
public or to the administration of justice[.]”

On December 29, 2020, the Investigative Panel, represented by
the Director of the JQC, filed a motion to suspend Judge Christian
Coomer of the Court of Appeals of Georgia pursuant to Rule 15 (C)
on the ground that “the Investigative Panel has received sufficient
evidence to demonstrate that [Judge] Coomer poses a substantial
threat of serious harm to the administration of justice and public
confidence in the judiciary.” The motion attached lengthy Formal
Charges filed by the JQC’s Director against Judge Coomer on
December 28, 2020, alleging 26 violations of the Georgia Code of
Judicial Conduct, as well as an Amended Complaint filed against
Judge Coomer by the Georgia Government Transparency and
Campaign Finance Commission (GTCFC) on November 23, 2020.

However, there is no affidavit or other verification by someone with
personal knowledge of the facts that the allegations in the Formal
Charges and the Amended Complaint are true or supported by
evidence. The motion also refers to extensive evidence allegedly
supporting the Formal Charges that the Investigative Panel
obtained during its investigation of Judge Coomer, but none of those
materials have been submitted to this Court, much less in a form
allowing this Court to consider them as evidence.
Moreover, on December 30, 2020, Judge Coomer filed a
“Consent to Interim Suspension.”

Despite the caption, Judge Coomer does not admit that any of the allegations against him are
true or could be proved, even conditionally for purposes solely of the
motion to suspend and even without admitting whether the
allegations, taken as true, would warrant a suspension under the
standard set forth in Rule 15 (C). Instead, he “disputes the
allegations by the JQC,” “denies that he violated the Code of Judicial
Conduct,” and points out that “[t]he JQC has not filed any evidence
with this Court to support the allegations in the Formal Charges.”
Thus, the situation before this Court is unlike motions for interim
suspension under Rule 15 (C) that the Investigative Panel has filed
in some previous cases, which included exhibits such as arrest or
search warrants supported by affidavits of law enforcement officers
and not disputed by the judge at issue for purposes of the motion for
interim suspension.

In short, while the Formal Charges present extensive and
serious allegations of misconduct by Judge Coomer, this Court at
this time is not in receipt of anything that would be deemed evidence
in a civil case and that we may properly consider in determining
whether Judge Coomer’s continued service until the case against
him is resolved poses a substantial threat of serious harm to the
administration of justice. See JQC Rule 15 (C). See also JQC Rule 8
(“Except as otherwise provided in these Rules, the rules of evidence
applicable to non-jury civil proceedings and the rules of civil
procedure apply in judicial discipline and incapacity cases.”). The
Director has represented, however, that such evidence is available,
and so we will hold the motion to suspend Judge Coomer in abeyance
and allow the Investigative Panel to present evidence to this Court
to support the motion no later than January 8, 2021.

It should be noted that unlike some previous motions to
suspend that were filed and ruled upon before formal charges were
filed against the judge at issue and thus were kept confidential,
because Formal Charges against Judge Coomer have been filed and
served, this order and related filings shall be filed publicly, although
the parties may move to file particular pleadings and information,
such as personal identifying information, under seal where that
would be proper in a civil proceeding. See OCGA § 15-1-21 (k) (2) (B)
(“After the filing and service of formal charges . . . [w]ith respect to
a disciplinary matter of a judge, all pleadings and information shall
be subject to disclosure to the public . . . except to the extent that
such pleadings and information . . . could be properly sealed . . . by
a court as provided by law.”); JQC Rule 11 (B) (2) (same). See also
OCGA § 9-11-7.1.

For its part, Judge Coomer’s filing contends that,
notwithstanding the failure of the Investigative Panel’s motion to
satisfy the requirements of JQC Rule 15 (C), this Court may order
him to be suspended with pay simply because he would consent to
such a suspension, indicating that he has already entered a
“voluntary self-suspension agreement” with the Court of Appeals.
However, the Georgia Constitution vests in the JQC “the power to
discipline, remove, and cause involuntary retirement of judges” for
the reasons set forth in the Constitution, Ga. Const. of 1983, Art. VI,
Sec. VI (a), subject to the order of this Court after review and
pursuant to the JQC Rules reviewed and approved by this Court, see
id. Par. VI-VIII. The Constitution and the JQC Rules do not
authorize a judge to stop performing his or her official duties – while
continuing to serve in office and to receive pay – in response to a
disciplinary investigation or prosecution by the JQC, by asserting
that he is doing so with his consent or by agreement with his own
court. The interim suspension of a judge is authorized only pursuant
to JQC Rule 15 (C) by motion of the JQC Investigative Panel
followed by order of this Court or pursuant to the provisions of JQC
Rule 15 (A) or (B) for judges indicted for or convicted of a felony. We
therefore deny Judge Coomer’s request that this Court enter an
order suspending him with pay without any supporting evidence
and without making the determination required by JQC Rule 15 (C)
that an interim suspension is necessary because the judge poses a
substantial threat of serious harm to the administration of justice.

Melton, C. J., Nahmias, P. J., and Boggs, Peterson, Warren,
Bethel, Ellington, and McMillian, JJ., concur.


Previously

From the AJC, from Dec. 28: 

Ethics charges filed against Appeals Court Judge Christian Coomer

Georgia’s judicial watchdog agency on Monday filed ethics charges against state Court of Appeals Judge Christian Coomer, alleging he violated the code of judicial conduct and campaign finance and lending laws.

It is believed to be the first time a sitting appellate judge has faced formal ethics charges from the state Judicial Qualifications Commission. Coomer, who once served as state House majority whip, was appointed to the Appeals Court by then-Gov. Nathan Deal in 2018.

In a statement, Dennis Cathey and Doug Chalmers, lawyers representing Coomer, said the judge “strongly denies” the allegations. “The allegations misstate the facts and the law, and they significantly overstep the JQC’s jurisdiction.”

Coomer has voluntarily agreed to a suspension from his judicial duties pending a resolution of the JQC proceedings, the lawyers said.

“In the coming months, it will unfortunately be necessary for him to spend a significant amount of his time defending himself against these incorrect allegations,” they said. “That will necessarily be a significant distraction from his public duties.”

Expanded story here.

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