A South Georgia judge convened a criminal trial, heard evidence and found a defendant guilty even though the accused man was never in the courtroom to defend himself, according to new ethics charges filed Monday against the judge.
The filing amends and supplements previous allegations by the state Judicial Qualifications Commission against Grady County State Court Judge J. William Bass Sr., who is scheduled to appear at trial before the commission next month. Former state Attorney General Mike Bowers is a member of the agency’s prosecution team.
Bass’s lawyer, Christopher Townley, said the judge needs to needs to look into the incident before formally responding to the allegation.
“It’s the first time they’ve given us any notice about this,” Townley, said. “He doesn’t remember any details about it.”
The new filing says Bass denied Rene Billiot his fundamental right to defend himself against an obstruction charge during a non-jury trial in October 2009.
“I’d never experienced anything like it before,” said Camilla lawyer Jami Lewis, who was Billiot’s public defender at the time. “It seemed like such a serious and obvious violation.”
Billiot was pulled over July 29, 2009, by a state trooper who wanted to inspect Billiot’s tractor trailer. When Billiot became agitated, uncooperative and refused to answer questions, he was arrested and charged with obstruction.
Billiot was scheduled to stand trial three months later but failed to show up, Lewis said. Instead of issuing a bench warrant to have Billiot arrested for failing to appear in court, Bass told the prosecutor to present his case and instructed Lewis to defend Billiot, Lewis said.
Lewis objected to the trial being conducted, saying Billiot had the right to be present to confront any witnesses against him, she said. But Bass overruled her.
Bass found Billiot guilty, yet prosecutors later dismissed the case when Lewis filed a motion for a new trial, she said.
In December, the state’s judicial watchdog commission filed a number of other ethics charges against Bass. The agency said Bass asked for a pay raise for his part-time work based on the amount of money he collected in fines and exceeded his authority in setting fines to “maximize” revenue collection for the county.
In response, Bass denied violating the state canons of ethics for judges and accused the state agency of bias and putting an incorrect “spin” on the case. The judge’s request for a pay raise, for example, had nothing to do with increased fines that were collected but was based on the extra work he dedicated to his job, the filing said.
After a rough week in Washington, President Barack Obama came to rainy Atlanta on Sunday to be with a friendlier crowd, becoming the first sitting president to give the commencement address at Morehouse College.