Judge removed from bench after Ga. Supreme Court ruling

The scathing ruling says the judges actions paint a picture of a judge who will bend the rules and abuse his power to benefit himself financially.
The scathing ruling says the judge’s actions paint a picture of a judge who will bend the rules and abuse his power to benefit himself financially.
Published: Aug. 16, 2023 at 2:51 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 16, 2023 at 5:56 PM EDT
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ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - The Georgia Supreme Court said in a Wednesday decision that a Georgia Court of Appeals judge should be removed from the bench — though it said the case was “initially a close one.”

The announcement comes after Atlanta News First Investigates uncovered a long list of ethical conduct violations.

Christian Coomer, appointed by former Gov. Nathan Deal in 2018, was accused of flouting ethics rules on how a lawyer should treat a client and of looting his campaign account to pay for a family vacation to Hawaii and loans to keep his struggling law firm afloat. There were 36 formal charges first brought against Judge Coomer by the Judicial Qualifications Commission in December 2020.

Since then, the judge has been suspended with pay. Collecting his annual salary of $179,000.

The nearly 50-page ruling says his actions paint a picture of a judge who will bend the rules and abuse his power to benefit himself financially.

He was accused of accepting a loan of $130,000 from a client on favorable terms and writing a will and trust that made him and his heirs the client’s beneficiaries. Coomer repaid the money to client Jim Filhart, but only after Filhart sued Coomer, the high court said.

Coomer, a former state legislator, was also accused of using campaign funds to pay for airfare and other items for a fall 2018 trip to Hawaii.

“Although Judge Coomer attempted to identify a legislative purpose for the trip, ultimately the trip was entirely leisure,” the state Supreme Court said.

The court found some evidence for many of Coomer’s contradictory explanations but said enough of the panel’s findings were supported by sufficient evidence.

In January, a three-member panel of the state Judicial Qualifications Commission recommended that the state Supreme Court remove him from the bench.

They found the judge “exploited a vulnerable person, has repeatedly violated campaign finance rules and flouted professional norms, and has done so knowingly and for his own personal financial benefit,” the justices said in a unanimous decision.

“By demonstrating a pattern of refusing to comply with the law and professional norms when noncompliance was in his interest, he has undermined the public’s trust in his ability to follow and apply the law honestly and fairly in cases that come before him,” the high court said.

In a statement, Coomer said that he was disappointed, but that his own “errors in judgment” led to the decision to remove him from the bench.

“I will use this setback as an opportunity to reexamine my flaws and do better,” he said. “I remain committed to my core values of dedication to God and my family, and engagement in service to others.”

Coomer can ask the court to reconsider its ruling, but the decision to remove him is otherwise final.

His attorney, Mark Lefkow, said his client is a “good man.”

“I’ve gotten to know him over the last three years and his family, and I’ve witnessed his strength and character myself,” he said in a phone interview with the Associated Press.

Coomer has sat on the Georgia Court of Appeals since 2018.

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