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‘Tyrannical partiality’ ascribed to Brunswick drug court judge
By JIM WALLS
A coastal Georgia judge whose courtroom behavior drew national attention now must defend herself against formal charges that she denied a suicidal defendant and others the right to due process and ignored conflicts of interest with her family members.
In a 12-count “notice of formal proceedings,” the Georgia Judicial Qualifications Commission today told Glynn County Superior Court Judge Amanda Williams that her actions may have violated several canons of the Code of Judicial Conduct.
The charges track several cases profiled in “Very Tough Love,” a one-hour episode of National Public Radio’s This American Life broadcast in March, about Williams’ handling of defendants in drug court. Specifically, the complaint alleges that Williams:
- Sentenced a defendant to a month in jail at a hearing without the public or a court reporter present, modified the sentence so the woman would be held “indefinitely” and ordered jailers to hold her in isolation without contact from her attorney. (The defendant, after attempting suicide, was transferred to a treatment facility 73 days later.)
- Punished another defendant for challenging the results of a drug screen;
- Transferred custody of a third defendant’s children without a hearing;
- Handled matters prepared by her daughter, her husband, her son, her daughter-in-law and her son’s law partner, who at the time was also a tenant paying rent to her;
- Appointed her daughter to represent children in her courtroom and ordered that she be paid under threat of contempt;
- Cited “emergency” rules to hear matters in which she’d recused herself; and
- Failed to disqualify herself from a case in which a woman accused her bailiff’s son of stalking.
With those actions, the JQC said, Williams violated a judicial canon barring her from using “tyrannical partiality” in her courtroom.
Williams, whose served 21 years on the bench, has 30 days to respond to the charges. If the case advances to a formal hearing, the JQC will be represented by former Supreme Court Justice Leah Ward Sears and former Attorney General Mike Bowers. Both signed the complaint filed today with the Georgia Supreme Court.