On Monday, January 30, 2023, the Judicial Qualifications Commission of the State of Georgia recommended the removal of Christian Coomer from office as a judge of the Georgia Court of Appeals.

The case is entitled “In the matter of Judge Christian Coomer” and was brought by the Director of the Judicial Qualifications Commission with case no. 2020-128.

The charges cited Code of Judicial Conduct 1.1, 1.2(a), and 4.2(b) which state:

Judges shall respect and comply with the law.

Judges shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary.

Judicial candidates, including incumbent judges, shall not use or permit the use of campaign contributions for the private benefit of themselves or members of their families.

The Code of Judicial Conduct can be found here.

The respondent allegedly violated the Georgia Code of Judicial Conduct by engaging in willful misconduct in office and by committing conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice which brings the judicial office into disrepute. The 36 counts of the Amended formal charges fall into five categories of wrongful conduct. The filing alleged that the respondent while still practicing law, prepared promissory notes and entered into loans with a client that are unfair and unreasonable. Respondent also failed to provide the client with his records and bills despite repeated requests. In another matter, the Respondent repeatedly violated campaign finance laws in the years preceding his appointment to the Court of Appeals and while on the Court of Appeals. And lastly, while serving as a judge on the CA, the respondent made certain misrepresentations and omissions on a mortgage application.

The filing states:

“Respondent, acting as Filhart’s attorney, also drafted various estate planning documents for Filhart, several of which form the basis of counts in the AFC. First, Respondent drafted a Last Will and Testament of James Pat Filhart dated May 23, 2018 (“May 2018 Will”). 7 Ex. 147. The May 2018 Will designated Respondent and his heirs among the beneficiaries; it also named Respondent as executor and trustee of the will. Respondent prepared the will according to Filhart’s requests, and Filhart intended to have Respondent distribute his estate pursuant to handwritten lists that Filhart would periodically create. Respondent admits that he violated Georgia Rule of Professional Conduct (“GRPC”) 1.8(c) in preparing the May 2018 Will, 8 although he claims that he was unaware of the Rule’s prohibitions when he drafted the document. Respondent further insists that, although he was a beneficiary of the will, he would have distributed the estate according to Filhart’s wishes and not in a manner that unduly benefitted Respondent. He acknowledges, however, that the terms of the will afforded him complete discretion to leave all assets of the estate to himself — and to cancel any of the many several debts he (or, more accurately, his corporate alter ego) owed to Filhart”

The filing continues:

“First, on December 6, 2017, Respondent drafted and entered into a promissory note with Filhart pursuant to which Filhart loaned S80,000 to CAC at a rate of 4.5% per annum simple interest for a twenty-year term (“December 2017 Loan'”). Ex. 130. The loan was unsecured, provided no personal guarantee from Respondent, listed Filhart’s own address as “security” for the unsecured loan, and would not have matured until 2038– when Filhart would be over 90 years old.”

The filing further states:

“Although Respondent cannot recall the purpose of each transfer, he claims that some transfers were “inadvertent” while others were intended to reimburse his law firm for undocumented expenses it had incurred on Bbehalf of his legislative campaign. In each instance, despite claiming that these transfers were reimbursements, Respondent transferred the money back to his campaign account within the same reporting period. On the date of each transfer into his law firm account, Respondent’s law firm account either would have had an overdrawn balance or a dangerously low balance but for the transfer. Respondent contends that he justifiably used campaign funds to float his law firm’s operating account in this manner because the law firm had paid an equivalent amount of undocumented, uncalculated campaign-related expenses.”

The filing additionally notes:

“Months later, Respondent did reimburse his campaign account with personal funds for some of the expenses paid with campaign monies. Respondent’s explanation for this violation of campaign finance laws was one of raw convenience: he used his campaign credit card to benefit from the travel protections the card provided (although he admitted that there was nothing unique about the campaign’s American Express card that he could not have obtained through a personal American Express card). Respondent further admits that he inappropriately used campaign funds for his family’s travel and that he did not fully reimburse the campaign account prior to the CFC investigating these issues.”

In summary, the Hearing panel concluded that the allegations proved that the respondent is guilty as to Counts 1-12, 15-22, 24-31, and 35 by clear and convincing evidence but has failed to prove Counts 13-14, 23, 3234, and 36 by that same standard. However, with the entire record in consideration of the disciplinary action, the testimony of the various witnesses, and documentary evidence, the Hearing Panel of the Judicial Qualifications Commission recommended that the respondent be removed from office.

The Disposition states:

“The Hearing Panel concludes that the Director has proven Counts 1-12, 15-22, 24-31, and 35 by clear and convincing evidence but has failed to prove Counts 13-14, 23, 32-34, and 36 by that same standard. Having considered the entire record of this disciplinary action, directly observed the testimony of the various witnesses — including Respondent and his victim, Filhart — and reviewed the documentary evidence submitted by the parties, the Hearing Panel of the Judicial Qualifications Commission respectfully recommends to the Supreme Court that Respondent Judge Christian Coomer be removed from office as a judge of the Court of Appeals. JOC Rule 6(B)(1).”

Hon. Christian Coomer attended the University of Georgia School of Law.

Judge Coomers’ courtroom is located at 330 Capitol Avenue Suite 1601 Atlanta and can be reached at (404) 656-3450. His info can be found on ballotpedia.org

A copy of the original filing can be found here.