Judge Christian Coomer could be removed by Supreme Court of Georgia

Court of Appeals judge facing multiple allegations of misconduct
Published: Feb. 8, 2023 at 10:35 AM EST|Updated: Feb. 9, 2023 at 11:02 AM EST
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ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - The state’s highest court could soon decide whether to remove a powerful judge from the bench after multiple claims of misconduct came to light following more than two years of investigations and hearings.

On January 30, a Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC) panel recommended Judge Christian Coomer, who has sat on the Georgia Court of Appeals since 2018, be removed from his job.

Some of the misconduct claims include using campaign funds to take Coomer’s family on vacation to Hawaii and Israel. Other charges include transferring campaign funds to his former law firm and taking out an unfair loan from a former client, who is elderly.

The claims are among 36 formal charges first brought against Coomer by the JQC in December 2020.

“The judicial system, the smallest and most fragile branch of government, can function only if the people trust the women and men who populate the judiciary,” said the panel in its report to the Supreme Court of Georgia. “Because the public cannot and should not have faith in [Coomer’s] ability to fairly dispense justice and uphold the law in light of his repeated violations of the CJC, [Coomer] should be removed from office.”

Details of the investigation were on full display during multiple hearings live-streamed on Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney’s YouTube channel over the past three months.

McBurney is one of three JQC panelists who recommended removing Coomer from the court of appeals. The other panelists included Dax E. Lopez, an attorney; and Wilburn Winter Jr., a public citizen.

“[Coomer]’s funding his personal trips with his campaign money, benefiting his family and even then, he doesn’t pay it back,” said Chuck Boring, the JQC’s director, in December. “How will the public ever have public confidence that he’s going to enforce the rules when he can’t follow the rules himself?”

Coomer’s campaign cash covered thousands in airfare, rental cars and gas, including $1,400 in flight upgrades for his wife and three children.

During the hearing, Boring outlined how Coomer attempted to make the Hawaii trip appear business related by asking a hospital to give him a tour of a facility in a rural part of the island. It never panned out.

The trips happened when Coomer served as state representative in the Georgia House in 2017 and 2018, before he was appointed to the appeals court.

Coomer said he partially reimbursed his campaign for the trips afterward, but did not admit not the entire cost until after a campaign finance investigation was underway.

During the hearings, Boring detailed how Coomer made himself executor and beneficiary of the same elderly client’s will and testament.

“It looks really bad when you look at these billing invoices and [Coomer] charged this elderly man $80,000 for a guardianship and his invoices show he only earned between $25,000 and $50,000,” said Boring.

Caren Morrison, a Georgia State University College of Law professor, reviewed the 50-page JQC report recommending Coomer’s removal. She said the panel made the right move.

“You don’t write someone’s will and make it to benefit you,” said Morrison. “It’s kind of [like a] movie villain in a comedy kind of level.”

The Supreme Court of Georgia will decide if Judge Christian Coomer will be removed from the...
The Supreme Court of Georgia will decide if Judge Christian Coomer will be removed from the Georgia Court of Appeals(WANF)

While much of the judge’s actions happened before being appointed to the court of appeals, Morrison said Coomer’s past can impact the public’s trust in the judicial system if he remains on the job.

“If you’re going to be in front a judge and you realize this is a judge who has taken advantage of an older person and used campaign funds to go on trips to Hawaii, you’re not going to feel like you’re going to get a fair shake.” she said.

Coomer blamed the campaign finance issues on sloppy accounting. His attorneys said he never intended to defraud anyone.

“This man has a lifetime of good conduct and deserves to wear a robe,” said Mark Lefkow, one of Coomer’s attorneys representing him during the JQC hearings.

The judicial panel disagreed, and recommended the Supreme Court of Georgia remove him from the bench weeks later.

The decision to remove Coomer is now in the hands of Georgia’s highest court, which is under no timeline for a decision. Meanwhile, Coomer is still collecting his $179,000 annual salary.

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