Gwinnett solicitor files motion against county judges over DUI cases

Gwinnett’s solicitor general, Brian Whiteside, filed a motion of contempt against three Recorder's Court judges for continuing to hear DUI cases. (Photo by Phil Skinner) AJC FILE PHOTO

Combined ShapeCaption
Gwinnett’s solicitor general, Brian Whiteside, filed a motion of contempt against three Recorder's Court judges for continuing to hear DUI cases. (Photo by Phil Skinner) AJC FILE PHOTO

Gwinnett County Solicitor-General Brian Whiteside hopes to force three judges to abide by a court order and transfer drunken driving cases to another court.

Whiteside, the county’s top prosecutor for misdemeanor crimes and ordinance violations, filed a motion for contempt in Gwinnett County Superior Court on Oct. 19 against Recorder’s Court Judges Kathrine Armstrong, Mihae Park and Wesley Person.

Superior Court Judge Ronnie Batchelor ordered the Recorder’s Court in an Oct. 14 ruling to transfer all DUI cases to State Court. But the three judges have yet to transfer these cases and left them on their calendars, said Whiteside in a Tuesday news release.

“The dysfunction of the Gwinnett County Recorder’s Court bench is endangering the lives, safety, and property of everyone on the roads of this county,” said Whiteside, who took office in 2019.

The three judges did not respond to Tuesday requests from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution for comment. An assistant for one of the judges directed a reporter to the defendants’ attorney, who could not be reached Tuesday afternoon.

There are currently 30-40 DUI-related cases that still need to be transferred to State Court, according to Whiteside. A few cases with probable cause were dismissed after the judge ordered the transfer, he said.

“For the last few months, (the judges) have held trials, in violation of these rights, and let alleged intoxicated individuals walk free on cases,” Whiteside said. “Probable cause existed to bring suspects before a jury of Gwinnett citizens to enact a verdict. These parties may be driving vehicles in Gwinnett now.”

The solicitor pushed to prosecute all DUI cases under state law in Gwinnett State Court rather than as ordinance violations in Recorder’s Court, prompting him to file a lawsuit earlier this year after he says county judges refused to allow the transfer.

Whiteside desired to prosecute these cases in State Court since this venue allows defendants to be heard by a jury and appeal a decision outside of the county. Recorder’s Court cases can only be appealed to Gwinnett County Superior Court.

Court reporters are not present for each case that goes before the Recorder’s Court, which handles traffic citations and ordinance violations. The absence of court transcripts can make it difficult for defendants to file appeals, Whiteside said.

The judges on the Recorder’s Court are appointed by the State Court. Whiteside said the state Legislature needs to turn judgeships on the court into elected positions with term limits so they can be held accountable by the public.

The judges listed in the motion may try to appeal the Superior Court’s order to transfer the cases, according to an Oct. 18 email sent by an attorney to Whiteside included in the motion’s evidence. But the defendants had not tried to appeal or tried to pause the judge’s order prior to the contempt filing, Whiteside said.

“If they even do an appeal ... the thing people need to know is that the county is paying for this garbage,” Whiteside said. “How much have they spent on something that a sixth grader could have said, “You have this right, and they have that right?’”