New judge may decide Crawford Lewis' case

If DeKalb County Superior Court Cynthia Becker resigns as planned later this year, she'll leave some unfinished business in the case of former DeKalb schools Superintendent Crawford Lewis.

Becker had scheduled a Jan. 9 hearing for Lewis to allow him to present additional information about his testimony, which she said she didn't believe.

Last December, Becker sentenced Lewis to serve 12 months in jail rather than the probation he had agreed to under a plea deal with prosecutors. The Georgia Court of Appeals on Oct. 23 vacated his jail sentence and ordered the case back to Becker's court for further proceedings.

Becker set the hearing for Lewis and declined to recuse herself because of her first-hand knowledge of Lewis' testimony.

"Even with a complete and careful review of a trial transcript, which included thirteen days of testimony and forty-one witnesses, a reviewing judge would not have the ability to view the testimony in light of present sense impressions, demeanor of the witness as communicated ..." Becker wrote in her Oct. 27 order. "Therefore, this court cannot recuse."

But if Becker steps down from the bench before Jan. 9, another judge would have to handle the hearing and the decision about Lewis' sentence.

Becker said Monday she will resign, and she confirmed that the Georgia Judicial Qualifications Commission is investigating her. Here's her full statement:

Recent headlines, articles, and commentary in the media require my direct response to the DeKalb County citizens who have entrusted me with the office and duties of Superior Court Judge.

First, I have, in each and every case before me, made findings of fact based on the evidence as I heard it. I have then applied the law to those facts in making my decisions. I have never considered: the position any individual held, who the lawyers were, the socio‑economic status, political agendas, or any inappropriate matter. I have made decisions based on the law, period. That is what my Oath of Office requires and justice demands.

Second, it is alleged that I had an improper, secret communication with the attorneys for two defendants. That is not so. Factually, I received the Order from the Court of Appeals on Thursday, October 23rd. After reading that directive and researching the law, I concluded that I would have to give those two Defendants a new trial (a "Do Over") in the interests of justice. I removed myself as the Judge of any re‑trial, since I had made factual determinations as to the credibility of certain testimony. That decision was made Friday, October 24th and a rough draft of the Order was created; however, I wanted to carefully consider the ramifications of my findings and the possibility of a re‑trial, so I held my decision over that weekend for further reflection and prayer.

Monday morning, October 27th after making all of the substantive decisions in the case, I confirmed that the Defendants were no longer in the DeKalb County jail, and that they were located somewhere in the State prison system. I called their attorneys to verify the exact locations of each Defendant. It was important that the Orders go directly to those prisons, particularly given the health concerns as to Defendant Reid that had been raised during trial and the fact that prison transports occur only on Tuesdays and Thursdays. There was no need to involve the DA's office in that procedural communication, just as there had been no need to involve the attorneys for Pope and Reid months earlier when the District Attorneys and Defendant Lewis' attorneys met with me in my office with the proposed plea deal.

Third, it has been suggested that the Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC) is investigating the procedural actions in this case. That is true, as I was first advised by them at a conference on September 8, 2014 [Docket #2015‑1]. To my knowledge, prior to last week, no allegations of misconduct had been filed by anyone. If I have made any error of law or fact in this or any other case, those allegations are a matter for the Appellate Courts of this State to review once the complete transcripts and briefs have been transmitted.

The DA has filed a written, supposedly confidential, complaint with the JQC, as has been reported in the media. The confidentiality of that process has been breached by others. I stand by my decisions and I will accept any lawful correction of any purported errors.

Lastly, it has been headlined that these allegations could end my career of service as a Superior Judge. As my family, friends, colleagues, and Courthouse family had known for months before this trial, I plan to leave office before my term ends, not due to any pressure from anyone, but because I am engaged to be married in early spring 2015. I am happily exchanging the very public life of a Judge for a very private life with my husband and I am looking forward to this next exciting chapter of my life. It has been an honor serving DeKalb County to the best of my ability.

I will give Governor Deal my letter of resignation after closing out professional obligations later this year as planned. I want to ensure the Governor Deal has several months to choose the best possible replacement to serve.

The people of DeKalb County deserve no less.

About the Author

Mark Niesse
Mark Niesse
Mark Niesse covers elections, the Georgia General Assembly and state government.