A small sample of the comments and responses from some of Augusta’s top legal minds as the news continues to circulate that the chief superior court judge of the Augusta Judicial Circuit has been served notice by the Georgia Judicial Qualifications Commission.
I broke the story of the JQC’s inquiries into three specific episodes involving Judge Brown back on Feb. 1.
The social media post detailing what was reported on my radio show went like this:
“I have been told the Georgia JQC has served a multi-layered notice of inquiry and complaint against Augusta Judicial Circuit Chief Judge Carl Brown.
The JQC is investigating claims of nepotism, exerting undue and improper influence over the Magistrate Court of Burke County, and Brown’s behavior involving the effort to convert 401 Walton Way into the new juvenile court center.
It is not believed his role in opposing the judicial circuit split has anything to do with this JQC complaint.
I am told that most of the other Augusta Superior Court judges believe it is in the best interest of the veteran jurist to resign, but apparently Judge Brown looks like he is digging in for a fight. Reportedly, the JQC has asked him to appear to answer all complaints in a few weeks.
If found to have acted either illegally or unethically, the JQC has the power to remove the judge, effective as soon as that decision is reached.
If Judge Brown either resigns or is removed, he could be replaced immediately by the Governor, who already has several applicants who have been vetted and approved because of their recent interest in the seat vacated by retired Judge Mike Annis. That position was filled with the selection of former state senator Jesse Stone.
Judge Jim Blanchard is the next most senior Superior Court judge in the circuit, and he is next in line to be chief, if Judge Brown departs.”
I felt the need to share all that here, verbatim, because, as this column goes to press, there has not been a single word about the JQC letter in any professional Augusta media publication or broadcast, except mine.
JQC inquiries and hearings are usually treated with the utmost discretion and confidentiality. As you can imagine, there is no shortage of angry criminals, bitter litigants and disgruntled citizens who, at some point, have had “axes to grind” against almost every court official in the state. Those folks can make all kinds of silly and frivolous accusations in the quest to “even the score.” Logically, the JQC opts to keep investigations of accusations involving judges “under the radar” unless “cause for removal or sanction” is found, so that outlandish claims do not sully the reputation of an innocent jurist.
And to be clear, this type of review is purely “professional oversight,” as such, while criminal investigations may commence after a JQC inquiry finds cause, a judge is not automatically charged or criminally convicted based on JQC decisions. In essence, the public and the media have no “right to know” concerning these actions and cannot legally demand access to documents or evidence UNLESS the matters end up as part of the official record of a criminal or civil court action.
So how do we know about any of this?
Reportedly, Judge Brown himself sent a copy of the JQC complaints against him to multiple members of Augusta’s legal community, and a few others, in an apparent quest for advice and assistance.
That decision alone has been called a “grave mistake” by several of Judge Brown’s longtime friends and supporters. It is highly unlikely that anyone would have known these serious accusations had come to the attention of the JQC had it not been for the judge’s decision to rather indiscriminately share the letter (via a forwarded email) with what has been reported to be over half a dozen people. One elected official now tells me the letter has been copied and shared throughout the legal community.
The allegations described in the letter are bad enough, but the poor judgment shown in Brown’s decision to bring so many others “into the loop” now has even his friends and allies questioning his judicial temperament and fitness to continue to serve.
And those allegations. OOF.
NEPOTISM: Judge Brown’s “indirect” supervision and direct advocacy for his daughter DeCara Brown-Myers, who serves as a staff and office coordinator in Augusta’s Juvenile Court, has been a matter of great concern for quite some time. Critiquing her management and recent astronomical salary escalation would require a column of its own. Suffice it to say that having her Daddy ultimately in charge of the Juvenile Court invites scrutiny, and that scrutiny does not reassure Brown’s critics.
AN OVER-THE-TOP DECREE: Also known as “Juvenile Court Quagmire Part 2,” Judge Brown’s silly court order commanding the Augusta City Commission to immediately (and magically) transform the mold and mildew infested former Law Enforcement Center at 401 Walton Way into a new Juvenile Court complex, and to do so, or face the threat of being in contempt of court.
While Brown’s concern over a lack of space and logistical support for the Juvenile Court is justified and appropriate, ordering such a specific and hideously expensive solution (IMMEDIATELY, no less) is so far over the line, Judge Judy couldn’t make sense of it.
BURKE COUNTY MAGISTRATE BULLYING: It is no secret that virtually everyone in law enforcement and in the courthouse in Burke County wanted appointed Magistrate Judge Andrew Palmer to continue in place for a full term. But the people of Burke County apparently had other ideas and voted his challenger Cynthia Kelley in to replace him.
In attempting to set her own choices as associate magistrates, as the law allows her to do, Judge Kelley reports that Judge Brown insisted that Palmer be one of her team. Kelley reportedly pushed back, and she says Brown pushed harder. If that indeed happened, it is unethical, and quite possibly illegal. Whatever happened, there is apparently a paper trail, and Judge Kelley has apparently already been interviewed.
The JQC is reportedly set to question Judge Brown concerning these concerns at a formal hearing Feb. 19. That hearing is closed to the press and general public.
If the commission finds Judge Brown’s explanations and alibis acceptable, he will continue on in office as if nothing ever happened.
If they do not get acceptable answers, it will be the end of a great career.
In the two dozen or so conversations I have had with attorneys, community leaders, and, yes, even other judges concerning these allegations, there is not a single word of disrespect or animosity involving Judge Brown’s time or temperament on the bench. For decades, he has served with honor and distinction, and he has been righteously tough as Hell on bad guys, just as the law, and his constituents expect him to be.
But these accusations are very serious, and they deserve serious answers.