ATLANTA (CN) – Georgia’s judicial ethics board filed misconduct charges against the head of the state’s largest drug court. The Commission on Judicial Qualifications accused Glynn County Superior Court Chief Judge Amanda Williams of “tyrannical partiality,” making false statements, indefinitely incarcerating defendants, abusing court visitors and defendants, and nepotism.
The 12-count Notice of Formal Proceedings caps a long investigation by the Judicial Qualifications Commission, made up of state-appointed investigators and attorneys, with former Georgia Supreme Court Justice Leah Ward Sears and former state Attorney General Michael Bowers as lead prosecutors on this case.
The Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC) already was investigating Williams when a March 2011 report from National Public Radio’s “This American Life” brought some of Williams’ behavior on the bench into the public spotlight.
Program host Ira Glass focused on the story of defendant Lindsey Dills, a repeat drug offender with a history of suicidal behavior whom Williams incarcerated for an indefinite jail term. Glass also reported on other cases in Judge Williams’ court.
Drug Court, an alternative for repeat drug offenders, allows a defendant the chance to enter a county rehab drug education program, instead of doing hard time in jail.
According to the JQC complaint, Dills originally was charged with forging her parents’ checks in 2005 and under the terms of her sentence entered into a drug court contract. When she violated the contract in 2008, Williams sentenced her to a 28-day prison sentence. According to the JQC’s 31-page complaint, Williams knew Dills was suicidal.
“Despite her history, on or about October 8, 2008, you held in chambers and outside the presence of the public and a court reporter, a hearing at which you sanctioned Dills to 28 days in custody for ‘violation of [her] drug court contract,'” the JQC complaint states.
It continues: “However, on or about October 8, 2008, after Dills was taken into custody and transported to jail, you sua sponte modified her 28-day sentence to a period of confinement ‘indefinitely’ in the Glynn County Jail and ‘until further order of the court.’
“Furthermore, on or about October 8, 2008, after Dills had been sentenced and transported to jail, and you returned to the courtroom and gave verbal directives to personnel and/or court officers, to wit: ‘On Lindsey Dills, she is not to have any telephone privileges and no one is to contact or visit her except Gail Kelly! Nobody! Total restriction!’
Dills was held for 73 days, during which “No one, including either Dills’ drug counselor or her attorney, visited her,” the complaint states.
She tried to kill herself on Dec. 9, “while in solitary and restrictive confinement,” but even “(a)fter this suicide attempt, Dills remained on court-ordered lock-down until about December 22, 2008, when she was subsequently transferred to an inpatient treatment facility,” the complaint states.
It continues: “At the time you ordered Dills into indefinite, restrictive custody, you knew or should have known that Dills was predisposed to suicidal tendencies, having previously signed an order placing her on a suicide-watch while she was in custody.
“When queried, you and/or your legal counsel, on your behalf, knowingly denied that you ordered any defendant at any time to be held in restricted custody, solitary confinement, or otherwise directed the conditions by which an inmate should be housed.”
The JQC report says that Dills is not the only drug court defendant Walker ordered to be incarcerated indefinitely.
In another case, Williams jailed a defendant for more than 17 days for disputing his drug screening test, JQC says. Defendant Charlie McCullough was 3 months away from graduating from the drug court program, when he failed a random drug screening.
Upon request, McCullough took the same test within 20 minutes of the first, and his test was negative. A third test came out negative as well, according to the complaint.
The JQC says: “The drug counselor advised McCullough that he would be required to appear in court because of the result of the first drug test. Although he passed both the second and third tests, the counselor informed McCullough that you [Williams] would only use the first test in determining his sanction.”
When McCullough asked to speak to Williams during his hearing, he said, “[The urine] was tested three times. I passed that, okay? I can’t explain to you why. All I know is what I’ve done and what I haven’t done, your honor.
“Williams: Well, you know, I don’t believe you.
“McCullough: I’m not going to go 22 months with clean time and then three months from my graduation [from drug court] to use.”
“Williams: Well, people have done it.
“Consequently, you sentenced McCullough to 17 days in the county jail. Court records show that the 17 days is comprised of two sanctions: 3 days for having a positive drug test and 14 days for ‘disputing the initial screen.'”
The JQC also accuses Williams of making snap rulings without consulting opposing counsel, including granting an order allowing a defendant appearing before her in a child support case to consolidate an active criminal drug court charge with the child support case.
When opposing counsel, attorney J. Robert Morgan, learned of the order, he requested a meeting with Williams and the public defender.
“At this meeting, Attorney Morgan objected to your [Williams’] consolidation of the criminal and civil cases. In response, you told Attorney Morgan, ‘I do not give a shit’ who hears these cases,” the complaint states.
“In response, Attorney Morgan presented you two ‘Orders for Voluntary Recusal.’ You refused to sign the orders and began yelling and cursing at Attorney Morgan.
“You initially refused to recuse yourself, but then improperly reassigned the cases to another judge you selected.”
The JQC also accused Williams of nepotism by, inter alia, appointing her daughter as a guardian ad litem.
“You violated Canon 2B of the Code of Judicial Conduct when you showed favoritism in your order requiring payment to your daughter, under penalty of contempt, and in doing so allowed your family relationships to influence your judicial conduct,” the complaint states.
“d. You violated Canon 2A (‘judges shall respect and comply with the law’) and Canon 3 (‘judges shall disqualify in any proceeding in which their impartiality might reasonably be questioned’) of the Code of Judicial Conduct when you failed to recuse yourself in a matter where a member of your family appeared before you as guardian ad litem.
“e. You violated Canon 3 (‘judges shall disqualify in any proceeding in which their impartiality might reasonably be questioned’) of the Code of Judicial Conduct when you failed to recuse yourself in cases where you had a conflict because your children and your husband appeared before you in the capacity as the lawyer in the proceeding.
“f. You violated Canon 3E of the Code of Judicial Conduct when you presided over a case in which you were disqualified and which you had previously reassigned to another judge.
“g. You violated Canon 3E of the Code of Judicial Conduct when you, having been disqualified, heard matters on an alleged ’emergency basis’ under the ‘rule of necessity’ when no such emergency existed.”
These accusations – Count Four – are more particularly described, as follows.
In the case of Walden v. Walden v. Gamer (as intervenor), a divorce action involving the custody of two minor children, on or about August 6, 2009, you heard a matter involving temporary custody. The litigant parents both appeared pro se. Garner, the great-grandmother, as intervenor, was represented by counsel.
“Also present in the courtroom was your daughter, Attorney Frances Williams Dyal. You asked your daughter, ‘Frances, come forward. Go talk to these people [about the children].’ Attorney Dyal, the father and Garner left the courtroom to discuss the matter. Garner’s counsel remained in the courtroom and the mother was instructed to wait in the outer hallway.
“After a short period, Attorney Dyal, the father, and Garner returned to the courtroom and, along with Garner’s counsel, approached the bench. Attorney Dyal, acting as the appointed guardian ad litem, recommended to you that temporary custody be given to Garner. You accepted your daughter’s recommendation and instructed Garner’s counsel to prepare an order.
“The mother had no opportunity to be heard on, challenge, participate in, or cross-examine Attorney Dyal’s findings. You failed to allow all parties to be heard prior to accepting your daughter’s recommendation.
“Attorney Dyal was operating under no written appointment as a guardian ad
litem. There was no disclosure on the record, or otherwise, to any party regarding
your familial relationship with Attorney Dyal.” (Parentheses and brackets in complaint.)
The JQC says defendants were at the mercy of Williams’ whims – and that she ordered one man “summarily jailed” for using slang, which was not obscene.
“A drug court defendant appeared before you to request to be excused from a Saturday class for a family function,” the complaint states. “Because of your disdain for the young man’s use of the term ‘baby momma,’ you ordered that the defendant be summarily jailed.
“You have often appeared frustrated with drug court defendants who wished to address the court, gesturing with your hand and saying ‘don’t talk to me.’ Any further attempt by the defendant to speak would often result in you directing the bailiff to take them into custody. When the bailiff inquired about the duration of detention, you often replied that you did not know and/or to make it for an indefinite period of time.”
Count 11 states, in its entirety: “The conduct in Counts One through Nine violates Canon 2 of the Code of Judicial Conduct, and O.C.G.A. §45-11-4, which prohibits you from ‘using tyrannical partiality in the administration or under the color of [your] office.'” (Brackets in complaint.)
County 12 accuses Williams of making false statements during the JQC’s investigation.
Williams has 30 days to respond to the complaint or to resign.
If she does not resign, the JQC, a seven-member panel of two judges, three attorneys and two private citizens, will hear the trial.
If the ethics violations are proven, the commission will issue a recommendation on disciplinary action. It’s up to the Georgia Supreme Court to issue a final ruling.
Williams is represented by John J. Ossick Jr. of Kingsland, and Steven M. Collins, with Alston & Bird of Atlanta.