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Wednesday, April 24, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

State Judge Is in Hot Water

CAIRO, Ga. (CN) - A state judicial commission is investigating a judge on 11 counts of ethical misconduct, including nepotism, racial prejudice, electioneering from the bench, threatening political opponents, and exacting illegal payments from defendants to try to boost his salary.

Georgia's Commission on Judicial Qualifications gave Grady County State Court Judge J. William Bass Sr. Notice of Formal Proceedings "for the purpose of determining whether you have committed the acts enumerated below and, if so, whether you are guilty of violations of the law, the Code of Judicial Conduct, willful misconduct in office, or other conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice which brings your judicial office into disrepute."

Although the 14-page document, filed Friday, repeatedly states, "You violated Canon [X]," all 11 counts come after the statement: "The purpose of these proceedings is to determine whether:". Hence, in the citations below, the statements "You violated" should not be interpreted to mean that the commission has concluded that Judge Bass has done this, only that it is investigating it.

The commission claims that Bass routinely collected illegal fines from criminal defendants brought before him, to boost the money collected for the state.

Count One states: "You violated Canon 2A ('judges shall respect and comply with the law") and O.C.G.A S 16-10-1 (Oath of Office), when you illegally charged costs and exacted payment from defendants, without legal authority, for the benefit of the county and you, as the State Court Judge of Grady County, in order to 'maximize' the collection of revenue which the county was not otherwise entitled to receive from defendants.

"You violated Canon 28 ('judges shall not lend the prestige of judicial office to advance their private interests') 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 (See Exhibit A). 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.

"You violated Canon 2A ('judges shall respect and comply with the law') and O.C.G.A S 16-10-1 (Oath of Office), when you illegally charged costs and exacted payment from defendants, without legal authority, for the benefit of the county and you, as the State Court Judge of Grady County, in order to 'maximize' the collection of revenue which the county was not otherwise entitled to receive from defendants."

Judge Bass - who shares a legal practice with his son, William Bass Jr. - appointed his son to sit in for him as judge, in his absence.

Count Four states: "You violated Canon2B ('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."

The commission also claims that Bass used his judicial position to help a Facebook friend's son who was charged with his first DUI.


Count Four states: "You violated Canon 3C (judges shall avoid ex parte communications) when you engaged in a private Facebook chat with a 'friend' who contacted you on behalf of her brother about a DUI matter which was pending in Grady County. The friend discussed with you the ramifications of a DUI and whether her brother could keep his license for work. She described to you that her brother had a young family and he needed 'to drive to sell property.' Your friend also advised you that she knew that her brother had an attorney. After receiving this private Facebook message, you engaged the friend in a lengthy conversation, although you were specifically advised that her brother 'ha[d] an attorney.' In your response to her you provided legal 'advice' about how her brother should 'get this matter in to State Court' from the court in which it was pending, so that you could adjudicate the matter. You further advised the defendant's family member that once the matter got into the State Court that you would 'handle it from there.' You also improperly provided legal advice to the Facebook friend about how her brother should present his case to the court, telling her in quoted language what her brother should say when his case was called. You also indicated to her what the sentence would likely be should the blood alcohol be 'low' and it was his 'first offense.' Although the friend provided you her brother's name, and that you knew that you had received ex parte information about the defendant and his circumstances, you did not recuse yourself from hearing this matter or disclose on the record that you had engaged in an ex parte communication about this case when the matter came before you. This conduct violates Canon 3E. Then, you reduced the DUl, allowing your Facebook friend's brother to plea nolo contendere to reckless conduct, a non-traffic offense, imposing a fine of $300 and an illegal imposition of administrative costs in the amount of $700. You also accepted a nolo contendere plea for an open container of alcohol violation and illegally sentenced the defendant to pay no fine, and imposed in lieu of a fine, administrative costs in the amount of $200, in violation of O.C.G.A. S 40-6-253.

"This conduct violates Canon 2B insofar as you allowed your social relationships to influence your judicial conduct and judgment. You further conveyed to your Facebook friend the impression that you were in a special position to influence the handling of this DUI case."

Count Five accuses Judge Bass of discriminating against minorities, and electioneering from the bench.

It states: "You violated Canon 1, Canon 2, and/or Canon 3 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 knows 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 a sexual relationship with a member of your staff;

"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."

Count Eight accuses Bass of carrying out a political vendetta: "You have violated Canon 2A and Canon 28 of the Code of Judicial Conduct when, during your campaign for judicial office, you made numerous threatening and confrontational statements to the owners and other employees of the private probation services company under contract with the State Court because they would not publicly support your candidacy. Within days of your successful election, you retaliated against the probation company by terminating the probation company's contract with the court."

Bass has 30 days to respond to the charges in writing.

Grady County is in south central Georgia, on the Florida line. Its seat is Cairo.

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