On Wednesday, March 15, 2023, the Supreme Court of Georgia asked the three-member hearing panel of the Judicial Qualifications Commission that recommended Judge Christian Coomer’s removal to review the case further.

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.

On January 30, 2023, the Judicial Qualifications Commission recommended the removal of Judge Christian Coomer from the office as a judge of the Georgia Court of Appeals. Allegedly, the respondent 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 alleged 36 counts of the amended formal charges fall into five categories of wrongful conduct. The said 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.

In summary, the hearing panel concluded that the allegations proved that the respondent is guilty to several counts by clear and convincing evidence but has failed to prove the others. 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.

However, according to the Supreme Court, the hearing panel made two critical errors of law that prevents the court from resolving the matter. First, it erroneously determined that Judge Coomer’s conduct before he became a judicial candidate was the proper subject of discipline. As to the court, the code of Judicial Conduct only applies to conduct by judges and judicial candidates while they are judges or judicial candidates. The court emphasized that the code of Judicial Conduct simply has no application to conduct by people who are not yet judges or judicial candidates, even if they later become a judge or judicial candidates.

Second, the director and hearing panel erroneously determined that negligent conduct outside the judicial capacity could warrant discipline when the case law makes it clear that conduct outside the judicial capacity must be done with bad faith to warrant discipline. The court explained that none of the counts against Judge Coomer allege any actions taken in a judicial capacity, and so, the director would need to prove bad faith by clear and convincing evidence otherwise. The court strongly emphasized that they are not in a position to make their own findings.

The court directed the hearing panel to issue new findings that determine which counts against Judge Coomer that were proved by clear and convincing evidence are properly within the scope of the Code of Judicial Conduct and clearly articulate which counts, may support discipline within the constitutional framework as articulated in the opinion. And lastly, reconsider what discipline is appropriate based on the revised findings.

The filing states:

“The Hearing Panel is directed to file that new Report and Recommendation with this Court within 60 days of the date of this opinion. We leave it to the Hearing Panel to set a schedule for obtaining briefing from the parties as to the questions now before it.”

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.