A superior court judge indicted on charges of felony theft and violating his oath of office has been suspended by the state’s judicial watchdog agency.
The three-member hearing panel of the state Judicial Qualifications Commission notified Judge Robert “Mack” Crawford of the Griffin Judicial Circuit on Monday that he was formally suspended until further notice, Crawford’s attorney, Virgil Brown, confirmed.
Brown said the JQC filed notice of the action with the state Supreme Court under seal. “They said it wouldn’t be public information,” the lawyer said. “But everybody in the world knows he’s being suspended.”
Brown said the JQC suspended Crawford without a hearing. “I think they didn’t want to have hearing because the Supreme Court reversed them the first time,” he said.
Brown said he was scheduled to meet with the Griffin circuit’s other judges on Wednesday morning regarding Crawford’s suspension and the distribution of his pending civil cases. “He has 200-300 cases assigned to him, some of which he has heard,” Brown said.
The suspension was the second effort by the JQC to remove Crawford from the bench until his scheduled ethics trial in January. In October, the JQC’s seven-member investigative panel asked the state high court to suspend Crawford while ethics charges against him were still pending.
At the time, the investigative panel said allowing the judge to continue to preside over cases while facing ethics charges and a criminal investigation associated with the alleged theft of more than $15,000 from the Pike County Superior Court registry “poses a serious threat of harm to the administration of justice.”
The Supreme Court unanimously denied the JQC’s request, and Crawford remained on the bench, although he has recused himself from hearing criminal cases and state child support cases.
The JQC filed ethics charges against Crawford in July. Brown and his co-counsel, former Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes, contend the funds from the Superior Court registry that Crawford directed a clerk to pay him were actually legal fees owed to him for 16 years by a client who died more than a decade ago.
On Oct. 31, a Pike County grand jury indicted Crawford on charges of felony theft and violating his oath of office. Under JQC rules, the commission’s three-member hearing panel that will preside over Crawford’s ethics trial has the authority to suspend him with pay if it determines the judge constitutes a threat to the administration of justice to the public if he continues to hear cases. The suspension would last until the criminal charges are resolved or the judge’s term expired.
The JQC’s hearing panel members are Fulton County Superior Court Chief Judge Robert McBurney, Cobb County Police Chief Mike Register and Atlanta attorney Jamala McFadden.
On Tuesday, Supreme Court spokeswoman Jane Hansen referred the Daily Report to the JQC rules and to McBurney, who also referred the newspaper to the rules and to the state Constitution.
Under the rules, the suspended judge may petition the hearing panel to lift the suspension. The rules, which track language in the state Constitution, also bar the commission’s findings or records regarding a suspension from being admitted as evidence in court and also dictate that they not be made available to the public.