Judge Reeves Responds To Formal Charges
Chief Superior Court Judge Robert Reeves of the Middle Judicial Circuit has submitted his response to the Georgia Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC) regarding its 58 counts of alleged misconduct listed in the formal charges presented to the judge on November 16.
Judge Reeves was elected to the Superior Court in 2007, and has served as the Chief Superior Court Judge in Candler, Emanuel, Jefferson, Toombs, and Washington Counties since 2020. He is accused of making improper and intemperate comments and gender-based improper comments, having improper contact with court personnel, and fundraising for and promotion of an advocacy center, all of which led to violations of the judicial code. continued from page
Upon receiving the formal complaints that led to the charges being filed, the JQC’s Investigative Panel concluded that, “Formal charges should be filed for the purpose of determining whether Judge Reeves has violated the Code of Judicial Conduct, and if so, whether he has committed willful misconduct in office, exhibited habitual intemperance, and whether his conduct is prejudicial to the administration of justice such that it brings the judicial office into disrepute.”
The JQC presented Reeves with the charges, as Charles Boring, Director of the JQC, who filed the notice of formal charges, requested that proceedings be instituted for the purpose of determining whether Judge Reeves’ conduct constitutes violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct, and if so, the appropriate discipline. Reeves was required to answer the charges within 30 days, as the group said failure to do so would deem the judge as being guilty.
Reeves’ legal counsel filed a request for an extension of deadline for the response, which was granted by the JQC, moving the new deadline to January 6. Reeves filed his response on the file’s due date.
Improper and Intemperate Comments
The JQC presented Reeves with 17 formal charges related to improper and intemperate comments that the Judge is accused of making while on the bench. In its charges, the Commission argues that Reeves “failed to act in a manner that promotes the public’s confidence in the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary,” but that the Judge “failed to establish, maintain, and enforce high standards of conduct, and to personally observe such standards of conduct in violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct.” Reeves denies these violations, stating that he does not remember several of the instances, and that the comments that he does recollect were said in a manner in which all involved parties recognized that he was joking.
One instance which the JQC listed as evidence of these charges occurred when Reeves reportedly made an inappropriate remark to a Toombs County court attendee while giving instructions to the court attendees prior to excusing them for lunch. According to the JQC, Reeves told the court attendees to remain seated while he finished his instructions. When an African-American male rose and began to leave the courtroom, Reeves is reported as saying, “Sir, you’re walking and I’m telling you to be still. Are you really that retarded?”
Judge Reeves admitted that although he could not remember the exact reasoning on the attendees’ instruction to remain seated, there was one individual, the aforementioned African-American male, who repeatedly tried to leave. He does not recall using “retarded” when speaking to the man, but does remember instructing the individual again to remain seated.
Another instance which the JQC cited occurred in March 18, 2022, when it is reported that Reeves made another inappropriate comment while presiding over a criminal calendar in Toombs County. During this instance, it is reported that a jailer asked the Judge when the court would be breaking for lunch, to which Reeves replied: “Get the people (inmates) fed? You mean we have to feed these people (inmates)?” The report states that several supporters of the inmates were in the courtroom during this instance, and several became visibly upset after the comment.
The judge agreed that this incident had happened, but said that his dialogue with the jailer was “clear to all in the courtroom to be friendly banter.” He stated that he “lacked information sufficient to form a belief as to the truth” whether there were multiple supporters of inmates in the courtroom at the time and denies anyone becoming visibly upset.
The formal charges alleged that in June of this year, Reeves publicly chastised a female attorney for the Middle Judicial Circuit Public Defender’s Office so intensely that she left the courtroom in tears. At the time of the event, it is reported that the attorney’s office was experiencing extreme staffing shortages, which was causing the attorney to have difficulty with the amount of paperwork required in preparation for the case. After the attorney left, Reeves is reported to have made a comment along the lines of “if you can’t handle the heat, stay out of the kitchen.”
Judge Reeves agreed that at the time of this allegation, the Middle Judicial Circuit Public Defender’s Office was short-staffed, but denies chastising the attorney until she left in tears, saying he merely asked about repeated errors on plea agreements and inconsistencies between what was listed on the plea agreements and what was presented orally in court. He denies that any of his actions caused the attorney to leave the courtroom crying, and admits to making the comment about heat, but only to another attorney during a private sidebar. Gender-Based Comments
According to the JQC, from at least 2016 through 2022, Judge Reeves allegedly engaged in a pattern of improper behavior that, at a minimum, gave the appearance of constituting sexual harassment and/or bias based upon the gender of various females involved in the Middle Judicial Circuit court system. Several instances of this improper behavior were also cited as evidence for the 20 formal charges regarding these comments. Judge Reeves denies these violations, arguing that several of these comments occurred while talking with individuals with which he has had longtime cordial friendships. The formal charges stated that in one instance, a female employee of the Middle Judicial Circuit’s Public Defender’s Office was walking down a oneway street near the office when Reeves reportedly whistled at her and drove his car the wrong way on the road to approach her. The JQC document stated that once reaching the woman, Reeves made a statement to the effect of, “What’s a pretty girl like you doing walking alone?” The employee, who is reported to be nicknamed “Miss America” by the Judge, warned Reeves that police often ticketed motorists for driving in the wrong direction on that one-way street.
Judge Reeves denied this allegation, stating that he does not remember any incident of this nature. He further commented, saying that he had known the individual and her family for years, and often engaged in friendly banter with her. He also admitted to calling her “Miss America,” but cited her “pageant wave” as the origin of the name.
Several instances of misconduct between Reeves and the female employee were listed in the indictment, including reported touching of shoulders, rubbing of the back, and attempted hugging that the female employee stated made her uncomfortable. According to the charges, it is suspected that these instances occurred so often that the employee no longer approaches Reeves alone, and has a coworker join her when conducting business.
The judge denied these instances, saying that the woman had hugged him in the past, but that he had never tried to hug her. Reeves argues the female has never shown any sort of discomfort and often engages in friendly banter, and that the coworker always accompanies the woman in the office, not just when Judge Reeves is present.
In the formal charges, Reeves was also reported to have told another female attorney that she needed to choose between being a full-time mother and a full-time attorney because she was unable to accomplish both tasks, as well as making comments about her husband’s back injury he received while on vacation, saying, “If you didn’t do the stuff you see on TV…you know one foot on the nightstand and one foot way over here, he wouldn’t hurt his back.”
According to the judge, he would never tell a female to choose between motherhood and a career, as he said he has often expressed sympathy to lawyers with young children for the demands that those children may bring.
He does admit, however, to making the comment about the lawyer’s husband’s back injury, citing it as being said in a joking manner to individuals with which he had been friends for years. He argued that he believed these individuals would recognize that the comment was a joke, and said that the lawyer has even told him that “she knows it was intended as a joke and was upset only because the comment was made in the presence of a member of her staff.”
The charges also listed instances of reported comments made by Reeves about a female Assistant District Attorney’s weight and appearance. After learning of the woman’s participation in a local race, Reeves reportedly said to her: “I knew you would have to be doing something to keep in shape, or you would have started gaining weight.”
Judge Reeves denied these allegations, stating “Strict proof is required.” Other Alleged Improper Contact with Court Personnel The JQC presented 10 formal charges against Reeves for other instances of alleged improper contact with court personnel, which stemmed from incidents in which Reeves reportedly asked other court officials to alter their decisions for the benefit of Reeves’ acquaintances. Reeves denied these allegations.
In one alleged incident, Reeves reportedly told an Assistant District Attorney that she should press charges against a law enforcement official for his actions regarding a serious motor vehicle accident. The incident involved a defendant in Emanuel County who left the scene of an accident and later contacted a law enforcement officer with whom he was acquainted to assist as he turned himself in to authorities. Reeves allegedly told the Assistant District Attorney that the officer waited too long to relay that information and that she should also charge the law enforcement officer with a crime.
Judge Reeves completely denied this incident, stating that “strict proof is required.”
Fundraising and Promotion of Advocacy Center A total of 11 formal charges were brought against Reeves for his participation in a 2015 promotional video for an area nonprofit organization, an advocacy facility serving communities in the Middle Judicial Circuit. The employees of the organization regularly testify in the Superior Court of the Middle Judicial Circuit in cases involving child victims, including but not limited to, child sexual and physical abuse cases. Judge Reeves agrees to participating in promotion of the advocacy center, but denies directly fundraising for the organization.
In the video, which the JQC reported was still available for viewing on the Center’s website in June 2022, Reeves appears onscreen with a banner that states, “Judge Bobby Reeves, Superior Court Judge,” as he discusses the benefits of the organization’s work in judicial cases. The judge admits to this event, but said he was unsure if the video remained posted and viewable.
It is also reported that Reeves hosted a two-hour fundraiser for the area nonprofit organization in December 2020, footage of which was still available online in June 2022. During this fundraiser, Reeves is said to have encouraged viewers to donate to the cause, and even called out lawyers, teachers, and other members of the community to donate. He reportedly challenged lawyers and attorneys to match every $500 donated by the public, and thoroughly discussed the role of the organization in his court.
Judge Reeves stated he lacked information or knowledge sufficient to form a belief on the truth of his comments or encouragements to donate to the cause, and therefore, denied those allegations. He stated that after participating in the event, he recognized that he should not have done so, and requested that the executive director and program host no longer include his participation in similar events going forward, and that the video be removed from the organization’s website. He said he was unaware other copies of the video depicting his participation were available on the organization’s social media channels.
By participating in these actions, the JQC alleges that Reeves “failed to establish, maintain, and enforce high standards of conduct, and to personally observe such standards of conduct so that the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary is maintained.” Also, the JQC alleges that Reeves lent the prestige of his office to advance the private interests of others and conveyed and enabled others to advance the impression that an organization was in a position to influence him. Judge Reeves denies these allegations.
Judge Reeves denied all alleged violations of the Georgia Code of Judicial Conduct, and stated he hopes that all matters alleged in the complaints are dismissed, that all costs be assessed against the JQC, and that he will receive such other and further relief to which he may be entitled.
Reeves will continue to serve on the bench unless disciplinary action is taken by the JQC or the Supreme Court. Now that the Commission has received the response to these formal charges, it will review the documents and schedule a hearing to determine whether the case will go to trial or be dropped in the coming months. If the case goes to trial, any decision may be appealed in lower courts until it is overseen by the state Supreme Court, which will make the final decision. Because of this, the case may take up to two years to be concluded. If the Judge is found guilty, possible outcomes of these claims are retirement, censure, and suspension or removal from office.