Ethics panel recommends removal of Georgia appellate judge

ATLANTA (AP) — The Georgia Supreme Court should permanently remove an appellate court judge accused of ethical misconduct, a disciplinary panel recommended in a report released Monday.

The three-state panel said Christian Coomer broke ethics rules about how a lawyer should treat a client and looted his campaign account to pay for family vacations and loans to keep his troubled law firm afloat.

“The defendant’s continued failure to uphold basic ethical and professional standards for attorneys and jurists warrants – and even makes a recommendation for – the Supreme Court to remove the defendant from office,” the panel of the Judicial Qualifications Commission wrote in a 50- side report summarizing a seven-day process on this topic from the last year.

Coomer will have a chance to respond, and Supreme Court justices could ignore both the facts and the recommendations. Coomer’s attorney, Mark Lefkow, noted that while the panel found that commission officials had proven 29 out of 34 cases, it had not been proven that Coomer committed fraud, deception, dishonesty or misrepresentation.

“Otherwise, the Recommendation misunderstands the evidence in a way that is not supported by the testimonies and the record, and sets legal standards that are not set out in the law,” Lefkow said in a statement, adding that Coomer believes that the judges “will carefully examine records and the law and come to a different conclusion.”

The Supreme Court suspended Coomer in January 2021.

The panel, which ruled unanimously, included Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney, former DeKalb County State Court Judge Dax Lopez, and retired businessman Jack Winter.

They agreed that Coomer broke a code of conduct by borrowing more than $360,000 from a client on terms favorable to Coomer and by drafting a will and trustee agreement for the client that made Coomer both executor and trustee also made the beneficiary. Coomer paid the money back to client Jim Filhart with interest – but most of it was returned after Filhart sued Coomer, accusing him of fraud and malpractice.

“The defendant either knowingly violated those rules and laws – and didn’t care – or lacked a basic knowledge of the ethical and professional responsibilities of his important position as attorney, counsel and ultimately judge,” the panel wrote.

The panel also agreed that Coomer acted improperly when, as a member of the House of Representatives, he used his campaign account to pay for family trips to Hawaii and Israel, with only the trip to Israel having any connection with legislative work. The panel also accused Coomer of lending his law firm from his campaign bank account.

“Whether it was supporting his law firm’s declining finances with campaign funds or using the campaign bank account to fly his family to exotic destinations around the world for mostly or entirely personal vacations, the interviewee has tens of thousands of campaign funds misused for personal ventures. ‘ the panel wrote.

Coomer previously paid a $25,000 fine for those transfers. He is also threatened with an investigation by the public prosecutor.

Coomer’s lawyers argued during the trial that he should be allowed to return because of his “legally sound” record.

“This man has a lifetime of good behavior and deserves to wear a robe,” Lefkow said. “He didn’t cheat on anyone, he didn’t try to hurt anyone, he wasn’t dishonest and he wasn’t cheating.”


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