Magistrate Court candidate Sanderson: ‘Opponent has a conflict of interest’
As you will recall, last Thursday evening at the Candidate Debate hosted by the Fayette County Issues Tea Party, a question was asked of my opponent as to whether he saw any potential conflict arising if he were to be elected Magistrate Judge in the same county in which his wife serves as an Assistant Solicitor (a prosecutor of misdemeanor crimes). My opponent stated that he was confident that there was no conflict. He further stated that his wife practices in the State Court, while he would be presiding in Magistrate Court.I vehemently disagree with my opponent’s statements, and I am writing to clarify my position on that issue. I have enclosed several documents which further support my contentions.
The Georgia Code of Judicial Conduct is the body of rules which govern judges serving in our Courts. I have enclosed for your review the preamble, and Canon 3(E), which is applicable in this instance. The complete document can be found at the following url:http://www.georgiacourts.org/files/Supreme%20Court%20Rules/GEORGIA+CODE+OF+JUDICIAL+CONDUCT_08_10.pdf
In the preamble, the Code states, “...judges, individually and collectively, must respect and honor the judicial office as a public trust and strive to enhance and maintain confidence in our legal system.”I believe that maintaining the public trust in our judicial system is paramount. That is why I do not believe it would be ethical or appropriate for the Magistrate Judge to be married to a prosecutor in an office that appears regularly in Magistrate Court.
Canon 3(E) clearly states that “(1) Judges shall disqualify themselves in any proceeding in which their impartiality might reasonably be questioned, including but not limited to instances where...(c)the judge or the judge’s spouse...(ii)is acting as a lawyer in the proceeding.”
In addition to the Code of Judicial Conduct, the Georgia legislature has passed statutory guidelines for judges to follow. OCGA § 15-1-8 states, “No judge or Justice of any court, magistrate, nor presiding officer of any inferior judicature or commission shall:
...(2) Preside, act, or serve in any case or matter when such judge is related by consanguinity or affinity within the sixth degree as computed according to the civil law to any party interested in the result of the case or matter..”I have enclosed that statute as well.
As he admitted, my opponent’s wife is an assistant solicitor with our Solicitor’s Office, the prosecutors of misdemeanor crimes committed in our County. However, contrary to my opponent’s statements, in fact his wife frequently appears in the Magistrate Court seeking special conditions of bond in misdemeanor cases, and she prosecutes bad checks in the Magistrate Court.I have enclosed just a smattering of examples of cases that she has handled in the Magistrate Court (all open record).
Furthermore, the Magistrate Judge is typically the judge that law enforcement turns to when they are seeking a search warrant or arrest warrant.These warrants are often sought late at night, at the home of the judge. After arrest, many of those cases are of course prosecuted by the Solicitor’s Office.It is inconceivable that the appearance of impartiality can be maintained if law enforcement is forced to knock on the door of the prosecutor’s house to seek a warrant from the judge.
My opponent would be forced to disqualify himself from any and all cases handled by his wife. Moreover, no Defendant is going to feel that they have been treated with impartiality by a judge that is married to the prosecutor, regardless of whether she appears or she gets a substitute lawyer to appear on her behalf.
If elected, my opponent would be effectively precluded from hearing any misdemeanor warrant applications, misdemeanor bond requests, bad check trials, or any criminal matters save felonies. Trying to work around such a significant conflict would only cost the citizens of Fayette County. I am astonished that my opponent would seek to characterize it in any other way.