Prosecuting a former judge, it turns out, isn’t so simple. In the matter of former Brunswick Judicial Circuit Chief Judge Amanda Williams, two judges in the case recused themselves and according to court documents it looks no closer to resolution.
A Fulton County grand jury returned a two-count indictment against Williams in June 2015 following allegations made against her by the Judicial Qualifications Commission in 2011 that she exhibited “tyrannical partiality” and made false statements during the JQC’s investigation of her. Williams resigned from the bench in January 2012, three months after the JQC released its 12-count ethics complaint, agreeing to not run for elective office again. An amended report was released by the commission later that added two more counts.
In the 18 months since the indictment, the case has moved on, but with a couple bumps along the way.
Williams entered a plea of not guilty on the accused felony offenses of making a false statement and violation of oath of office regarding her alleged actions in the matter of Lindsey Dills, who entered into drug court and pleaded guilty to forging two of her parents’ checks.
The JQC, and later the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office, accused Williams of directing the Glynn County Sheriff’s Office to indefinitely detain Dills after she violated her drug court contract in 2008, which it did, including the instructions she be isolated from everyone with the exception of the drug court counselor. She spent approximately 73 days in the Glynn County Detention Center.
On Sept. 22, 2015, Fulton County Senior Assistant District Attorney Brett Pinion filed a notice stating prosecutors intended to provide evidence Williams made false statements to the JQC twice more — once in Glynn County on May 25, 2011 and then in Fulton County on Aug. 5, 2011 — regarding the case of Henry Bishop III.
The JQC alleged in 2011 that she improperly placed Bishop into the drug court in 2009 as a way for him to dodge multiple violent felonies regarding his sons and as a favor to Bishop’s uncle, even though Bishop wasn’t charged with a drug offense.
Bishop’s uncle, James Bishop, issued a statement at the time denying that he asked Williams for special treatment.
In the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office notice, Pinion alleged Williams wasn’t truthful when saying to the JQC that she didn’t influence drug court placement, that prosecutors make the drug court placement decisions and that she didn’t get involved with Bishop’s placement.
But while a hearing Sept. 29. 2015 appeared to go significantly in her favor — according to court documents — it was enough for state prosecutors to accuse Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jerry W. Baxter of bias against the prosecution and making statements that “would have negative effects on the JQC.”
On Oct. 6, 2015, Fulton County Senior Assistant District Attorney Kevin Armstrong filed a motion to disqualify and recuse Baxter.
Baxter is quoted in the motion as saying during the September hearing, “Well, you know what, after you (the state) get through with this thing you got going on here, there is not a judge in this state that will ever show up to a JQC hearing. They will not show up. It is adversarial from the start.
“And, anyway, that’s not why the thing was set up, to ensnare people in coming in, to voluntarily come in and indict them. I mean, do you know a judge in their right mind who would go see them?”
Baxter was further quoted in the motion saying, “But you all (the state) are all so gung-ho with this thing; is that right? Everybody is gung-ho to get Judge Williams, former Judge Williams who has, you know, quit. She has been embarrassed. And, I mean, what are you all after?”
Baxter is quoted as going on to say that prosecutors, by bringing the case, gutted the JQC as an effective entity.
Armstrong went on to state in the motion that Baxter made statements to dissuade prosecutors from pursuing the case and suggested they settle and put an end to the matter.
Two days later, Baxter submitted his recusal. On Jan. 11, 2016, the next judge — Fulton County Superior Court Judge Alford J. Dempsey Jr. — also submitted his recusal and asked the case be reassigned.
Attorneys for both sides had a status conference Sept. 19 of this year, which Williams declined to attend in-person, but as of now, more than five years after the JQC investigation and a year and a half since the grand jury indictment, there’s no indication the case is closer to resolution.
Calls following up on the status of the case with the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office and Williams’ attorney John J. Ossick Jr. went unreturned Thursday.