Facing a suspension hearing scheduled for Thursday, Hart County’s probate judge has resigned and promised never to seek or hold a judicial office again.
In a letter sent Wednesday to Gov. Nathan Deal, Probate Judge Bobby Joe Smith made no mention of the hearing or misdemeanor battery charges pending against him that prompted the state’s judicial disciplinary agency last week to seek his emergency suspension from office.
Instead, Smith cited an unspecified medical condition as the reason for his resignation.
In his letter, Smith said his resignation will not take effect until Sept. 30. But he said he intends to take medical leave immediately and that he will remain on leave and not perform any judicial functions until his resignation is effective.
Smith’s promise not to seek or hold judicial office echoes a key component of resignations that investigations of judges conducted by the state Judicial Qualifications Commission.
Smith’s attorney, Daniel Moore of Hartwell’s Moore & Hicks, could not be reached for comment.
JQC Vice Chairman S. Lester Tate III said that per the commission’s request, the state Supreme Court had appointed Hubert Bell Jr. of Smith Currie & Hancock to preside over Smith’s suspension hearing.
Last week, the JQC filed an emergency motion asking the high court to appoint a special master to investigate the charges—and Smith’s insistence to preside over cases while on bond—and determine whether suspension was warranted.
In that motion, the commission contended that Smith’s presiding over cases was causing “immediate and substantial public harm and an erosion of public confidence in the orderly administration of justice”—both potential violations of the Georgia Code of Judicial Conduct.
On May 23, agents with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation successfully sought warrants against Smith, charging him with simple battery and criminal attempt to commit sexual battery. Both are misdemeanors, according to the JQC’s suspension motion. The charges stemmed from allegations that Smith had kissed a woman and then attempted to grope her after she sought help from him regarding a “serious” traffic citation in another county, according to the JQC motion.
Said Tate: “We felt like we [the JQC] had ample evidence to get our petition that he be suspended granted,” Tate said Thursday. “We had ample evidence to prove the allegations in the petition. … Plus, we believe we would have been able to prove numerous similar transactions” involving sexual overtures that Smith allegedly had made to other women.
Tate said that the JQC accepted Smith’s delayed resignation because, “Our number one goal is the protection of the public. This resolves the issue in such a way that the public is protected.”