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Ex-Magistrate’s Lawsuit Blackens Eye of Ga. Judiciary

Posted in News, Opinions and Analysis, Supreme Court of Georgia

This won’t end well. Anthony Peters, the former Catoosa County assistant Magistrate Judge has filed a civil rights suit against the his former boss as well as the Sheriff of Catoosa County. When I read Joy Lukachick’s article (hat tip to her) in the Chattanooga Times Free Press about the lawsuit, I had to pull the Complaint off of PACER, the same way rubberneckers have to slow down to watch the traffic disaster in the oncoming freeway.

And, to my fellow rubberneckers, I offer this Complaint for your entertainment. Take a gander, and sleep well in the assurance that there is some lawyer out there who will file your lawsuit for you. No matter how many lawyers have turned you away, don’t be deterred. You will meet the right lawyer one day:  Peters Complaint (PDF).

 

Who is Anthony Peters?

To set a little context, let me remind you of who Anthony Peters is. He was an assistant magistrate judge who was removed from office by the Supreme Court of Georgia upon the JQC’s recommendation. What, oh what, did Judge Peters do? Let’s recount the reality-TV-show-esque display that was Judge Peters’s last months in office. I’ll stick to the findings of the highest court in Georgia:

  • He admitted that he smoked marijuana from March to May of 2010;
  • He showed up at an estranged family member’s house, announced himself as the magistrate judge, and kicked in some doors (Walker, Texas Magistrate);
  • He sported a gun with him all over the courthouse, and occasionally pointed it at himself, cocked it and said “I am not scared.”
  • He called into a cable TV program where the Chief Magistrate was making a guest appearance and called his boss “spineless” (okay, that one was pretty funny. Anyone who’s ever been in a preliminary hearing in Georgia will appreciate the rich irony of one magistrate judge calling another magistrate judge spineless);
  • He outed a confidential informant by posting his picture and name;
  • He called a local cable show where the Sheriff was a guest and “disguise[d] his voice in multiple foreign accents.” Then he called the Sheriff a “spineless jelly spine” (that’s kind of funny and creative) and said that the sheriff had “crapped himself;”
  • And he refused to “work certain hours assigned to him by the chief magistrate” (more on this later);

The Supreme Court found by “clear and convincing proof” (as this lawsuit progresses, Mr. Peters will come to learn a little Latin phrase known as res judicata. The Supreme Court’s Order will emerge in a future Rule 11 or Summary Judgment proceeding like Jason in the Friday the 13th sequels) that all of these things were true. Mr. Peters admitted to most of it. But his position was that he should still be a judge because the time he spent on administrative leave was “punishment enough.” Here’s what the Supreme Court of Georgia had to say about that:

Notwithstanding Judge Peters’ personal belief that he has already received appropriate discipline, the record reveals that Judge Peters has not sought treatment for his admitted drug problems and has done nothing to show that he has any ability to live up to the high standard of conduct expected of members of the judiciary in Georgia.   Indeed, after using illegal drugs, forcibly kicking in doors at a man’s home at the request of a relative, pulling out a gun in front of at least one of his colleagues, and being suspended from his job for refusing to work hours properly assigned to him, Judge Peters consistently refused to take responsibility for his actions.   Instead, he spent his time while on administrative leave publicly disparaging the Chief Magistrate Judge and the Sheriff of Catoosa County and endangering the life of a confidential informant by exposing his identity. Such willful misconduct is clearly “prejudicial to the administration of justice [and] brings the judicial office into disrepute.”

 

Bringing Disrepute on the Georgia Judiciary? Really?

To get called out for “bringing disrepute” on the Georgia Judiciary is pretty bad. I mean, how is that even possible? The Georgia judiciary has been down on its luck lately.

Let’s roll the Georgia Judiciary’s highlight reel:

There’s the judge who was caught having sex with a public defender assigned to his court; there’s the judge who texted a civil lawyer racy texts where claimed to be Santa Claus; there’s the judge who repeatedly found that the defendant had the burden to prove his innocence; there’s the judge who referenced picking cotton to an African American litigant; there’s the judge who admitted that he groped some female prosecutors. He said he “flicked them on the fanny.” There’s the judge who pulled a gun in the courtroom and pointed it around; there’s the judge who tried to intervene with another judge ex parte on behalf of a prominent person in the community; there’s the judge whose conduct was so out there that NPR devoted a whole hour to her; there’s the judge who Facebook friended and entered into a relationship with a defendant in his court (he said that he “got tired of living under a microscope” when he resigned); and there’s the judge who had himself assigned to a multi-million-dollar case where his nephew’s lawfirm represented one of the parties. And that’s all the little capers I can remember off the top of my head as I write this.

So, to be told that you are bringing disrepute on the Georgia trial bench is to be told some pretty sobering words (no pun intended).

 And Now to the Suit

After the disastrous course the JQC trial took, one would think that enough was enough. But, no. Mr. Peters wants to prolong this magical ride.

The Complaint alleges that the Sheriff and the Chief Magistrate conspired against him to prevent him from campaigning successfully for Chief Magistrate. And in a bitter vendetta to destroy him, the Chief Magistrate moved him to the 3pm–11pm shift.

Apparently, the 3–11 shift in Catoosa Magistrate Court is rough duty. Instead of rubber-stamping pieces of paper that cops bring you in an open courtroom, the night magistrate rubber-stamps law enforcement documents in a more private setting.

When the very persecuted Judge Peters refused to take it, his boss told him to leave the building. When he refused, the police were called, and he was removed and not allowed back into the building. He was placed on paid leave, and he “kicked it” around the house while drawing a salary on the dime of the good people of Catoosa County. Too bad there’s no cause of action for what was clearly a violation of the Geneva Conventions.

The whole election thing feels like something of a moot point, doesn’t it? It would be hard to win an election now that the Supreme Court said that, because of his pot-smoking, door-kicking, firearm-brandishing, cable-show-calling ways, he was no longer capable of holding a judicial office.

That incident, according to the Complaint, violated Mr. Peters’s civil rights. He is suing the Defendants for $20,000,000 total in damages for his move to the night shift and for his forcible removal from the building. I think that Mr. Peters should not have aimed so low. I really hope that he amends his Complaint to ask for the $327 quadrillion dollars that this excellent case is really worth.

Like I said, this won’t end well. As I peer into my georgiacriminalappellatelawblog crystal ball, I see a Rule 11 Order in the Plaintiff’s future. And further disrepute to the Georgia bench.