Griffin Judicial Circuit Superior Court Judge Robert “Mack” Crawford. File photo.
Griffin Judicial Circuit Superior Court Judge Robert “Mack” Crawford is facing a late January ethics hearing before the state Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC) following a December ruling by JQC that suspended Crawford after he was indicted on charges of felony theft and violating his oath of office.
The suspension notice signed Dec. 3 by JQC Presiding Officer Robert C. I. McBurney noted that a Pike County grand jury on Oct. 31 returned a true bill of indictment charging Crawford with two felonies – theft by taking and violation of oath by a public officer.
“It is the finding of the Hearing Panel that these felony charges relate to – and adversely affect – the administration of Judge Crawford’s office and that the rights and interests of the public are negatively affected thereby. Therefore, pursuant to Rule 15(A)(1), the Hearing Panel hereby suspends Judge Crawford until the final disposition of this criminal matter or until his current term expires, whichever comes first,” the suspension order said.
Asked about the upcoming ethics hearing, District Attorney Ben Coker said it is expected to be heard by a three-member JQC panel in late January.
JQC in a July 24 ruling charged Crawford with “egregious” judicial misconduct relating to the theft of more than $15,000 from the registry of the Pike County Superior Court.
“The acts of judicial misconduct giving rise to these formal charges stem from four separate complaints filed with the commission,” according to JQC. “In the interest of judicial economy, these formal charges are based only on one of the complaints, the complaint regarding Judge Crawford’s most egregious misconduct: the theft from the registry of the Superior County of Pike County.”
JQC in the complaint 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, the 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 of Court 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.
Crawford was the subject of an investigation by the Ga. Bureau of Investigation (GBI) for instructing the Pike County Clerk of Superior Court to issue him a check for more than $15,000 and receiving those funds.
Coker in April said GBI was investigating the case, adding that Judge Crawford had recused himself from criminal cases until the investigation was completed.
Coker in a March 13 letter to Senior Assistant Attorney General David McLaughlin, said he was contacted by the Pike County Clerk of Court Carolyn Williams regarding Judge Crawford receiving funds from the Pike County court registry in the amount of $15,675.62. The funds were deposited by the plaintiffs in a lawsuit, for whom Crawford was listed as the attorney.
The complaint stated that, “… plaintiffs at the time of filing this action are tendering into the court $15,685.62 as required by law to pay the defendant for their right to redeem said property.”
Coker in the letter noted that Judge Tommy Hankinson in November 2009 issued an order dismissing the complaint and counterclaim complaint as there was “no written order… filed for a period of five years,” since 2002.
It was on March 9 that Williams “called and informed me that she issued the above-mentioned funds in the registry to Judge Crawford at his direction on Dec. 11, 2017. She stated to me, that she was preparing to send the money to the state as abandoned funds, but that she asked Judge Crawford to look at it before she did. Judge Crawford then advised the clerk to disperse the money to him. The clerk did, in fact, disperse the money to Judge Crawford,” Coker said.