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Thursday, April 25, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Hearing This Week for|Georgia State Judge

ATLANTA (CN) - Judge J. William Bass Sr. this week will tell Georgia's Commission on Judicial Qualifications why he should not be removed from the bench for alleged violations of several canons of the Code of Judicial Conduct.

The commission - three judges, two attorneys and two citizens - will convene Wednesday in Cobb County Court for the hearing against Bass, a Grady County State Court judge. It formally charged Bass with 10 violations of judicial canons in December 2012, and in an amended notice in February.

Allegations include charging criminal defendants illegal fines for "administrative costs" to boost state revenue, asking for a salary increase because he brought in more money from the fines, and nepotism: appointing his son to sit in for him.

Bass had 30 days to respond to the charges or to step down voluntarily.

He filed a response in January, denying each allegation.

According to the Amended Notice to Bass: "You violated Canon 2A ["judges shall respect and comply with the law"] of the Code of Judicial Conduct when you, without legal authority, ordered the collection of funds as "Administrative Costs" from criminal defendants." (Brackets in document.)

Bass relied: "(A) Judge Bass denies that he violated the disciplinary Canon. In way of further answer, if Judge Bass erred in collecting the costs, he erred as to the scope of his discretionary powers. "He did not intend to be disrespectful or fail to comply with the law.

"In addition, at the time of the acts alleged, Canon 2A provided that judges 'should' respect and comply with the law rather than shall. As such, any violation is not a binding rule upon which Judge Bass may be disciplined.

"(B) Judge Bass denies that he violated the disciplinary Canon. In way of further

answer, Canon 2B is misquoted. Canon 2B does not say 'to advance their private interests.' Instead, Canon 2B says "to advance the private interests of others."

Canon 2A is advisory. In addition, Canon 2A is misquoted."

Count One of the Amended Notice against Bass also states: "You violated Canon 2B ['judges shall not lend the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of the judge'] and/or Canon 2A ['judges ... shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary'] of the Code of Judicial Conduct when you wrote and, on or about July 3, 2012, delivered a document to the county governing authority requesting a salary increase. This document gave the appearance that your salary increase was warranted by the amount of funds you caused to be improperly collected by State Court." (Brackets and ellipsis in document.)

Bass answered that "the document was not written to advocate that he was entitled to a salary increase based upon the amount of funds collected. In fact, the letter specifically addressed that Judge Bass did not get concerned about raising money for the county. Instead, the emphasis was on the extra work he dedicated and his basic needs for an increase. The spin on the document asserted in (B) reflects the bias of the preparer of the Notice."


Bass's answer continues: "In addition, Judge Bass was entitled to health insurance which cost the County a substantial amount. In 2009, he acquired other insurance. To save the County money, he discontinued his coverage. From 2009 to 2012, the County saved substantial funds due to his choice to drop coverage. As such, the request for a raise was not seeking any significant increase in the amount the County was required to provide for his position."

Count Two accuses Bass of under-finding criminal defendants in DUI cases, by charging them only "surcharges and add-ons," instead of statutory fines plus the surcharges.

Count Three accuses him of nepotism: "You violated Canon 2B ['judges shall not allow their family, social, political or other relationships to influence their judicial conduct or judgment'] and Canon 3C(4) ['judges shall avoid nepotism'] of the Code of Judicial Conduct when you appointed your son, William Bass, Jr., to serve as State Court Judge of Grady County, in your absence." (Brackets in document.)

Bass replied: "Judge Bass denies that he violated the disciplinary Canon. In way of further answer, Judge Bass did allow his son to fill-in for him on a limited basis for limited purposes. This action was done for the benefit of the citizens of Grady County at no costs. His son received no pay or financial benefit. He simply helped when Judge Bass could not be available as a service.

"As noted by Canon 3C(4), a judge is not prohibited from nepotism. Instead, the

judge shall avoid it. This matter provides an excellent example of why the rule is not drawn to prohibit nepotism in all situations.

"No definition of nepotism is included in the Canons. However, it is a stretch to say that having your son sacrifice to help out the citizens is what was intended by 'nepotism' in this Canon."

The commission's amended notice added a charge to the December document, alleging that Bass held a trial without the defendant in the courtroom.

It states: "You have violated Canon 2A ['judges shall respect and comply with the law'] and Canon 3B(7) ['judges shall accord to every person who has a legal interest in a proceeding ... the right to be heard according to law"] of the Code of Judicial Conduct when you held a criminal 'trial' in absentia, of a defendant who was not before the court and for whom you had not determined adequately the reasons for the failure of the defendant to appear for the trial. An example of this misconduct includes, but is not limited to, the following case: State of Georgia v. Rene Billion (Grady County case number 318473). On or about October 26, 2009 you illegally conducted the bench trial of this defendant, in his absence and over the objection of Bullitt's counsel, contrary to both Constitutions of the United States and of the State of Georgia." (Brackets and ellipsis in document)


Bass denied it: "Judge Bass acknowledges that the case of State of Georgia v. Rene Billiot, was called for trial on October 26, 2009. At that time, the defendant did not appear and his counsel asked the Court if he would "consider continuing this to the next bench trial date.' The Court stated that 'I don't mind continuing it.' However, the State objected and moved to try the case. The case was tried. To the best of Judge Bass' knowledge, he took no further action and did not sentence the defendant. The matter was left open and could be corrected.

"In hindsight, the Court should have ruled against the position of the State and for the general request for a continuance made by defendant's counsel. However, the actions of Judge Bass were not intended to fail to comply with the law or to accord the defendant his right to be heard. The Court simply made an error concerning the difference between an implied waiver based upon the absence of the defendant before jeopardy attaches as opposed to after jeopardy attaches."

Count Five includes 11 particulars: "You violated Canon 1, Canon2A ['judges shall respect and comply with the law and shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary'], Canon 28 ['judges shall not allow their family, social, political or other relationships to

influence their judicial conduct or judgment'], Canon 3B(7) ['judges shall not initiate or consider ex parte communications ... concerning a pending or impending proceeding'] and/or Canon 3B(5) ['judges shall perform judicial duties without bias or prejudice'] of the Code of Judicial Conduct by engaging in the following acts of misconduct:

"1) While on the bench, in Grady County State Court, you asked members of the audience to vote for you in the upcoming election;

"2) You routinely take Hispanic defendants out of the courtroom to speak with them about their pending case, without a court reporter or the prosecutor present, manifesting a bias or prejudice as to these defendants based upon their race or national origin;

"3) You have been verbally hostile, both in and out of court, when confronting persons you believed voted for or supported your opponent in the election;

"4) You paid the fine for a defendant you had sentenced for Theft by Shoplifting;

"5) In court, you thanked members of the audience for voting for you in the election;

"6) You were belligerent to court employees that you said were supporting your political opponent;

"7) In court, you were verbally hostile to an attorney after he made a financial contribution to your opponent in the election. You made a loud and threatening statement in court to the attorney: 'l know you gave money to my opponent. Don't come back;'

"8) In court, you have told the audience that you had been falsely accused of having an inappropriate sexual relationship with a county employee;

"9) You threatened members of the Georgia State Patrol when you believed that they were taking exception to some of your rulings by stating 'we'll just take those radars back' which were provided to the State Patrol by the Grady County Board of Commissioners;

"10) During the sentencing of a male defendant you made an inappropriate reference based upon your perceived sexual orientation of the defendant;

"11) During court, you inexplicably advised those in attendance that you had not had sexual relations with your wife in two years."

In response, Bass acknowledged that he "may have an idiosyncratic style on occasion," but he denied violating judicial canons.

He wrote in his reply: "Judge Bass denies that he violated the disciplinary Canons. Count Five fails to comport with due process under the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article 1, Section 1, Paragraph 1 of the Georgia Constitution. Judge Bass is left to guess which Canon or Canons might be applied to which actions.

"In way of further answer, a state court judge frequently deals with unprepared,

unrepresented and inexperienced litigants. The judge must strive to achieve even handed results with litigants of disparate backgrounds, resources, and abilities.

"Judge Bass finds offensive and false the allegation that he showed improper bias and prejudice against defendants or individuals in his court. For example, the conversations with the Hispanic defendants were actually designed to insure the fairness of the process, were not improper ex parte communications, and were authorized by Canon 3B(7)(d) and (e) and the commentary thereafter.

"Judge Bass does not remember if he paid the fine for the defendant sentenced for

shoplifting. However, he does remember a situation where he was willing to do so. Under the circumstances, if Judge Bass did pay the fine, his actions would have brought respect from most of the citizenry.

"Judge Bass may have an idiosyncratic style on occasion, but he would ask the

Commission to make a reasonable and reasoned application of the text of the Canons in the full context of the actual events. To pull isolated incidents out-of-context to try to make a broad, general violation is unjust to a judge who has been elected by the citizens of his county."

The hearing is scheduled to for Wednesday through Friday.

Michael J. Bowers and Brian Rickman will be counsel for the commission.

Christopher Townley will represent Judge Bass.

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