The Supreme Court of Georgia recently dismissed the disciplinary case against Judge Robert ‘˜Mack’ Crawford of Pike County who was a Superior Court Judge for the Griffin Judicial Circuit. The Judicial Qualifications Commission alleged that Crawford had violated the Georgia Code of Judicial Conduct by ordering the Pike County Clerk to disburse $15,675.62 in court funds to his personal checking account and recommended he be ‘removed from office.’ Crawford subsequently resigned. A key issue in the Supreme Court’s decision was whether Crawford should be permanently banned from seeking or holding judicial office in the future. In its formal complaint filed with the Georgia Supreme Court, the JQC did not seek such a ban. In the court’s 10-page opinion, the high court concluded that ‘a permanent ban on seeking or holding judicial office would not be an appropriate sanction here. Accordingly, we dismiss this matter.’ ’At a formal hearing before the JQC Hearing Panel, the Pike County Clerk, who had held that position for 30 years, testified ‘“ and the Hearing Panel later found ‘“ that Crawford did not order the Clerk to disburse the funds to him, nor did the Clerk feel compelled to do so; she simply trusted Crawford because he was a close, longtime friend,’ the opinion says.’The Hearing Panel issued its Report and Recommendation, concluding that there was clear and convincing evidence that Crawford violated Code of Judicial Conduct Rule 1.1 by taking money that was ‘˜not demonstrably his own’ and by failing to comply with the certification requirement.’ (Rule 1.1 states that, ‘Judges shall respect and comply with the law.’) In the courts opinion, the court found that ‘while the evidence before the Hearing Panel likely was sufficient to support a finding that Crawford violated Code of Judicial Conduct Rule 1.1 by impermissibly converting the funds he obtained from the court registry under a preponderance of the evidence standard of proof, and perhaps even under the higher clear and convincing evidence standard, that is a close question; we note that the evidence on that issue certainly was not overwhelming.’ ’Critical to our analysis of the evidence, though, is the fact that Crawford has since resigned, thereby voluntarily removing himself from office, which was the very sanction sought in the formal complaint and recommended by the Hearing Panel,’ the opinion says. ‘Under these circumstances, we conclude that it is unnecessary for us to decide definitively whether the evidence was sufficient to support a finding by clear and convincing evidence that Crawford violated Rule 1.1 by impermissibly converting the funds from the court registry so as to warrant his removal from office.’ The court noted in a footnote that Crawford later pleaded guilty to misdemeanor theft related to the incident and was sentenced to 12 months on probation. As part of a plea deal, he resigned from office and agreed not to seek or hold judicial office while on probation. The opinion notes that JQC Rule 6 (B) identifies removal from office ‘with ‘¦ a prohibition on seeking or holding judicial office in the future’ as a permissible sanction, ‘and in the past we have imposed a permanent ban on seeking or holding judicial office. We conclude, however, that such a sanction would not be appropriate here.’ Again, ‘the evidence that Crawford impermissibly converted the funds from the court registry is not overwhelming,’ the opinion says. ‘Second, the alleged misconduct did not directly involve Crawford’s exercise of his judicial duties; to the contrary, the Hearing Panel specifically found that the sirector failed to prove that Crawford had ‘˜len[t] the prestige of [his] office to advance [his] private interests’ in connection with the disbursement of the funds as required to support the additional charge of violating Code of Judicial Conduct Rule 1.3. Third, Crawford voluntarily removed himself from office by resigning, which was the very sanction sought in the formal complaint and recommended by the Hearing Panel. Finally, Crawford’s plea agreement prohibits him from seeking or holding judicial office while he is on probation, and there is no indication in the record or in Crawford’s filings in this court that he plans to seek a judgeship at any point in the future.’ In a nine-page concurrence, Justice Keith R. Blackwell concurs fully in the decision to dismiss the case against Judge Crawford, ‘but I write separately to explain my reasons for doubting that the court has the power to forever disqualify someone from holding judicial office.’ Under the Georgia Constitution, ‘Any judge may be removed, suspended, or otherwise disciplined for willful misconduct in office, or for willful and persistent failure to perform the duties of office, or for habitual intemperance, or for conviction of a crime involving moral turpitude, or for conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice which brings the judicial office into disrepute.’ The Constitution divides the power of judicial discipline between the JQC and the state Supreme Court, giving the JQC the power to investigate, prosecute, try, and recommend disciplinary sanctions in cases of judicial misconduct, and giving the Court the power to impose disciplinary sanctions. The Constitution also directs the Supreme Court to ‘adopt rules of implementation,’ and in response, the Court has adopted the ‘Rules of the Judicial Qualifications Commission of Georgia.’ Rule 6 (B) identifies six disciplinary sanctions the Court may impose, including a ‘prohibition on seeking or holding judicial office in the future.’ ‘To the extent that Rule 6 (B) provides for a lifetime disqualification from judicial office, it is a proper exercise of our authority to ‘˜adopt rules of implementation’ only if a lifetime disqualification is among the sanctions authorized by the Constitution,’ the concurrence says. ‘And I have doubts that it is.’ ‘It is easy to read ‘˜removed, suspended, or otherwise disciplined’ to authorize sanctions that are equivalent to removal or suspension, as well as sanctions that are less harsh. But a lifetime disqualification from judicial office strikes me as a greater sanction than removal or suspension from a presently held office.’ It is for the General Assembly, not this Court or the JQC, ‘to determine by impeachment or the fixing of qualifications for judicial office whether and to what extent judicial misconduct ought to disqualify a judge from holding judicial office in the future,’ the concurrence said. Joining in the concurrence were Justices Michael P. Boggs, Nels S.D. Peterson, and Charles J. Bethel.
Judge Mack Crawford cleared
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