The Georgia Supreme Court ruled that a public reprimand is sufficient punishment for a judge who admitted to being chronically tardy for work and to skipping court entirely far more often than her fellow judges.
According to the justices’ unanimous ruling, Chatham County Recorder’s Court Chief Judge Tammy Stokes “habitually” arrived an hour or more late for work over the last year and a half, and didn’t even show up 38 days last year when she was supposed to be on the bench. The court said that this year, Stokes had already missed 36 days of court by the time she was formally charged with violating the rules of judicial conduct by the Judicial Qualifications Commission in September.
Stokes’ absenteeism required the court to spend “significant funds” on temporary judges to hear her cases, the justices said.
“The court spent more than twice as much money on judges pro tempore to fill in for Judge Stokes as the other two Recorder’s Court judges,” the opinion said.
Stokes’ frequent no-show status also meant she was unavailable to hear probable cause hearings and rule on search and arrest warrants, it said.
Law.com affiliate The Daily Report was unable to reach Stokes by phone or email on Monday. She ran unopposed for re-election in May.
According to the opinion, Stokes “offered no good cause” to explain her tardiness or absences but voluntarily cooperated with the JQC investigation, admitted to the conduct and was “reflective and remorseful,” and expressed an “honest desire to improve and set a better example” as chief judge.
The justices also said the commission panel took into account Stokes’ years of “faithful service” on the court, along with her explanation that “her absences and tardiness were due in part to then-pending litigation” to which she was a party.
The reprimand comes more than two years after the judges of the Chatham County Superior Court voted to strip Stokes of her authority as chief judge, issuing a “writ of prohibition” stating that the court was in a state of “crisis” and “dysfunction” under her leadership.
The Georgia Supreme Court later stayed the writ, and an appeal Stokes filed there was dismissed last year.
Stokes is a graduate of the University of Georgia School of Law who joined the State Bar of Georgia in 1988. She has been the chief judge of the Chatham County Recorder’s Court since 2012.