‘An immediate threat of harm:’ Agency asks state Supreme Court to suspend metro-area judge

·3 min read

A Georgia judicial oversight agency is asking the state Supreme Court to suspend a metro-area judge, arguing that she is an immediate threat of harm to the public and the court.

Channel 2 investigative reporter Richard Belcher says a suspension before a judge has an ethics trial would be unusual but is not unprecedented.

This is the second time the Judicial Qualifications Commission has asked the Supreme Court to suspend Douglas County Probate Judge Christina Peterson, who is facing 50 separate ethics charges.

[DOWNLOAD: Free WSB-TV News app for alerts as news breaks]

The Supreme Court rejected the commission’s earlier request to suspend Judge Peterson last October but left the door open for the JQC to try again. It is doing just that.

Peterson was elected in 2020, and her alleged misuse of social media attracted the attention of the JQC before she was even sworn in. That’s among the 50 ethics charges the commission has filed against the judge.

An initial complaint containing 18 charges was filed last fall, but most of the 50 charges were added just last week.

The JQC followed with the request for the Supreme Court to suspend Judge Peterson right away.

TRENDING STORIES:

The commission contends her “continued service on the bench poses an immediate and substantial threat of serious harm to the public and to the administration of justice.”

“They wanted my client out last year and claimed that the offenses were so egregious that she should be interimly suspended, and (the) Supreme Court rejected that,” says Cartersville attorney Lester Tate, a former chairman of the JQC who represents Judge Peterson.

The allegations include allowing staff to back-date official documents, allowing people into the Douglas County Courthouse for a weekend wedding over the explicit objection of the sheriff, and repeated improper use of social media.

The nearly 200-page JQC complaint and motion to suspend Judge Peterson includes some of the social media posts from 2020, before the judge was sworn in.

They include a caption that says, “Our future probate judge wants money on cash app.” In November of 2020, a post promoting an event at an Atlanta restaurant included the message, “Come party with me judge-elect.”

[SIGN UP: WSB-TV Daily Headlines Newsletter]

The complaint by the JQC also includes the observation that one of her postings included an “inappropriate sexual commentary.”

Called to a closed-door meeting with the commission in February 2021, just weeks after she took office, the judge told the panel, “I don’t want to offend the judiciary. I don’t want to do any of that. So why I am here is to correct my actions.” A partial transcript of her interview is included in the JQC’s recent filing.

The commission contends she was back on social media this summer, improperly promoting her role in a play at a Marietta theater. Her attorney thinks the social media accusations are overblown.

“A lot of the things that have been alleged, the things that I have seen, are things that were either said in jest or things that related to her hobby of being an actress. We believe that this is just an attempt to try to muddy her with more additional, spurious allegations when, if they really were that serious, the JQC should have spent the last year trying to get the case into court,” Tate told Belcher.

The Supreme Court will first grant or deny the JQC’s request to suspend Judge Peterson right away. Tate says he expects to ask for an opportunity to argue the evidence before any decision on suspension.

Whatever happens with the suspension request, she is entitled to a full hearing before the commission, and any recommended disciplinary action would have to be approved by the Supreme Court.

The JQC did not provide a statement for our story.

IN OTHER NEWS: