Superior Court Judge Crawford says $15,000 paid to him by court clerk was a forgotten legal fee owed to him
Griffin Judicial Circuit Superior Court Judge Robert “Mack” Crawford has responded to a July 24 ruling from the Ga. Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC) charging him with judicial misconduct relating to theft of more than $15,000 from the registry of the Pike County Superior Court and calling for him to be removed from office.
Allotted 30 days to respond, Crawford on Aug. 23, through his attorney, former Georgia Governor Roy Barnes, said he had not violated the rules “regarding the safe keeping of property as the property was properly paid over to Judge Crawford for his legal fee according to the agreement he had with his client,” and “He has not engaged in any dishonest, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation as the funds received by him were then repaid pending a full adjudication of the representation of the state regarding the funds rightfully due Judge Crawford.”
Crawford also responded saying the case pertaining to the $15,000 in question originated in 2002 when Crawford filed a complaint for redemption of tax deed for Timothy Clark in Pike County Superior Court.
Judge Crawford informed Clark that he would need to post money into the registry of the court in the amount of the tax deed in order to assure the deed could be redeemed, Barnes said in the Aug. 23 filing.
Clark delivered the funds to Judge Crawford, and Crawford deposited them in the registry of the court clerk, with Crawford subsequently successful in obtaining an injunction to stop Clark’s eviction. Barnes said Clark informed Crawford of his desire to stay on the property until his death and, at that time, any funds remaining in the court registry could be taken as his fee. Clark died in April 2004, said Barnes.
Barnes said the matter was dismissed in November 2009 “because neither Judge Crawford nor the attorney for the defendant in the redemption case had taken an order within five years. Crawford forgot about the money in the registry until 2017, when the Clerk of the Superior Court brought to Judge Crawford’s attention the funds were still in the registry and asked if he would take possession of the funds.
“Judge Crawford agreed to do so as to his fee and a check was issued to him for the same amount that was deposited into the registry of the court. Under the agreement Judge Crawford had with his client, the funds were properly received by Judge Crawford.”
Crawford’s Aug. 23 response continued, noting that “When the JQC made inquiry about the withdrawal of the funds, the funds were returned and the clerk sent the funds to the State of Georgia, Department of Revenue as abandoned funds. Judge Crawford still claims a right to the funds and a petition has been filed in the Probate Court of Pike County with the county administrator to manage the affairs of Clark at which time Judge Crawford intends to make a claim for attorney’s fees against the estate and to have the funds paid over to him by the State of Georgia.”
The JQC inquiry ruling was filed with the Ga. Supreme Court on July 24.
JQC in the ruling said Crawford “has also generally violated the Georgia Code of Judicial Conduct through a pattern and practice of failing to ‘dispose of all judicial matters fairly, promptly and efficiently.”
Crawford routinely fails to schedule hearings, issue orders, and otherwise proceed with the business of resolving cases before him, JQC said.
“This failure has resulted in a large backlog of cases, which have issues ripe for resolution, yet sit pending for years at a time waiting for Judge Crawford to take meaningful action,” the ruling said.
JQC said the charges are based on “the more serious misconduct” requiring judges to “respect and comply with the law (and to) refrain from lending the prestige of their office to advance the private interests of the judge or others.”
JQC referenced Crawford’s order to the Pike County Clerk to disburse $15,675.62 in funds from the court registry to him by check. Crawford then cashed and used a portion of the check for his personal benefit and deposited the remainder of the money in his personal checking account. The funds either belonged to his clients or were unclaimed property that should have gone to the Ga. Department of Revenue, JQC said in the July 24 ruling.