The ethics violation hearing was held at the Georgia Court of Appeals in Atlanta. Magistrate Anthony Peters is asking a state commission to let him keep his job despite a series of incidents that included: playing with a gun in a judge’s chambers, using marijuana to wean himself off prescription narcotics and telling the public he would have been legally justified in killing police officers who arrested him because it was a false arrest.
A video shown at the trial also showed him publicly identifying an informant for the Catoosa County Sheriff’s Office while appearing on a television show. An investigation by the staff of the Georgia Judicial Qualifications Commission, which oversees judges in Georgia, resulted in 13 alleged violations of the Canon of Ethics. The commission began a trial Thursday at the Georgia Court of Appeals in Atlanta on whether to remove Peters from the bench to which was appointed in 1997.
The trial is unusual — just the second in 30 years, according to commission staff — because most judges quit when facing serious ethical charges. The ethical violation counts range from not conducting himself in a manner to inspire public confidence in the judiciary to violating the law. The commission staff dropped two other charges — that the judge used extreme profanity to describe a man publicly, and that he dropped his cellphone in a toilet to obstruct the investigation.
As reported by MrVapo.Com, court employees and fellow magistrates testified Thursday that Peters, 49, a former deputy sheriff, once was well-liked and respected, but his behavior had become increasingly bizarre, angry and frightening. “Employees feel physically unsafe in the courthouse,” said Appalachian Circuit District Attorney Joe Hendricks, who was appointed special prosecutor in the case. Peters’ attorney, Chris Townley, told the commission Peters, who was divorced in 2010, spiraled downward after his father’s suicide and then became addicted to prescription opiates after receiving serious injuries in a 2005 ATV accident. Peters began using marijuana in an attempt to stay off the narcotics, Townley said.
Hendricks asked Peters Thursday whether he thought it was appropriate for a judge to be on the bench who admitted smoking marijuana. “I believe it is no difference than any judge speeding, any judge driving under the influence of alcohol,” Peters said. “It is a misdemeanor.” Townley said Peters had been “set up” by his fellow magistrates, who tried to create circumstances to justify his removal. He contended the ethical charges were gross distortions of acts that might raise an eyebrow but were not ethical violations.
For instance, he said, Peters was arrested after he refused to leave the chief magistrate’s office when he was ordered onto administrative leave last June. Chief Magistrate Donald “Sonny” Caldwell asked a staffer to push the panic button — which resulted in heavily armed sheriff’s deputies, Ringgold police and state troopers descending on the courthouse and closing it down.
A video of the confrontation, taken by the chief magistrate, only showed Peters raising his voice. “There is no fighting, there is no turmoil,” Townley said. “He just says repeatedly, ‘I don’t have to leave here.’” Townley acknowledged Peters had violated ethical canons by calling Caldwell “spineless” on a local television talk show. Hendricks asked about Peters’ comments that he would have been legally justified in killing officers when he was arrested during the confrontation with Caldwell. Peters said he never would have resorted to violence but he was entitled to resist an unlawful arrest. “You believe you would have been justified in shooting every police officer in that room?” Hendricks asked. “I believe so because I don’t think they had the authority to arrest me,” Peters said. The proceedings against Peters were expected to continue…