The leader of government transparency group Georgia Ethics Watchdogs who last month leveled sweeping charges of corruption at the Fulton County Family Court on Thursday singled out Judge Belinda Evans as a target of particular scrutiny, announcing a “Judge Edwards Watch” during a press conference at the county courthouse targeting the judge’s rulings in an ongoing custody battle.
Watchdogs founder and executive director William Perry said that for several years he has been compiling reports by aggrieved parties alleging mistreatment at the hands of the Family Court.
“I repeatedly heard these unbelievable stories of injustice: stay-at-home mothers—and sometimes fathers—getting custody taken away from them, and they’re basically powerless to do anything because they’re broke and penniless from paying all the lawyers,” said Perry in an interview.
“Every time I’ve tried to do anything, I hear the same thing: That can be handled on appeal.’”
“But these people don’t have money for an appeal or thousands of dollars for a transcript. And, if they do, the judges often aren’t writing final orders to appeal from.”
Perry, who is not a lawyer, served as executive director of Common Cause Georgia until 2015, when he left the non-profit, nonpartisan advocacy organization to launch Georgia Ethics Watchdogs.
In the case Perry highlighted Thursday, divorced mother Robyn Rowles was granted alimony, but custody of her children was granted to her “rich and powerful” ex-husband, Perry said.
Perry said the custody ruling was in spite of evidence of mental health issues, alcoholism and allegations of abuse against the father, while no such findings weighed against Rowles.
Edwards was elected to the bench in 2016, filling the seat of retired Judge Bensonetta Lane and assuming Lane’s Family Court docket, including Rowles’ case.
Perry said Edwards’ rulings in the case reflected a “continuing trend of bizarre rulings.”
Perry—backed by a cadre of supporters bedecked in bright yellow T-shirts emblazoned “Edwards Watch” at Thursday’s event—said he hopes to have at least one volunteer attend every hearing in Edwards’ courtroom going forward, including one in Rowles’ case set for Monday.
Edwards was not available Thursday and likely would not be able to comment on the case due to ethical restrictions.
Chief Judge Robert McBurney said in a statement that it is “the mission of the Superior Court of Fulton County to ensure that all members of our community are treated fairly and that everyone has equal access to justice. Our judges strive to give litigants a fair and full hearing and then decide cases on the facts presented in open court and according to the governing law.”
The attorneys for Rowles’ ex-husband declined to comment.
Last month, Perry announced the creation of Justice for Fulton Families and called for a criminal investigation into alleged corruption in the Family Division.
“We were just finding consistent patterns of what has to be either corruption or incompetence,” said Perry. “At the end of the day, I decided it had to be corruption.”
Perry said other judges may also come under scrutiny.
The “Edwards Watch” is not the first time colorfully clad protesters have gathered at the courthouse to complain about the Family Division. In 2013, picketers wearing green T-shirts marched along the sidewalks bearing signs “shaming” Lane and Judge John Goger, who has since rotated out of the division.
Perry said he was unaware of that protest.