Investigation finds judge was attorney on cases he presided over in court

Alpharetta has sent an investigative report on its former municipal court judge to the GBI and State Bar of Georgia.

The recently completed investigation found Barry Zimmerman acted improperly by representing criminal defendants appearing in Alpharetta Municipal Court in which he was the presiding judge. His actions date back at least 14 years, according the the document.

“Instead of removing the case from the Municipal Court of Alpharetta to the State Court of Fulton County, Judge Zimmerman would negotiate the case with (the solicitor),” the report by Randy Rich of Taylor English law firm states.

Zimmerman did not respond to phone messages left by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Zimmerman was a part-time judge in Alpharetta and separately has a law practice in Norcross. He resigned from Alpharetta last summer after a report by the Judicial Qualifications Commission found “reasonable cause” that he “violated the code of judicial conduct. ”

That report did not cite specific cases and as a result Alpharetta launched an independent investigation.

The city investigation of Zimmerman also confirmed AJC reporting last summer that found the judge provided private legal representation to then-solicitor Fran Shoenthal McQueen in a civil matter against her daughters.

According to court documents, Zimmerman represented Shoenthal McQueen while he was Alpharetta Municipal Court judge and she was city solicitor, prosecuting cases in his court.

The Alpharetta report was sent to the GBI and the State Bar of Georgia on Tuesday, Alpharetta Assistant City Administrator James Drinkard said, adding that those agencies will decide if they want to conduct a deeper investigation.

Alpharetta Councilmen Doug DeRito and Donald Mitchell said they want legal authorities to determine if Zimmerman broke the law.

“We have the JQC of the state for whatever reason let this judge off the hook,” DeRito said. “There’s a huge conflict of interest on cases that he heard.

“How may cases are impacted that were adjudicated?”

An official with the GBI said there is no current investigation, and state bar declined comment.

Thousands of criminal cases come through the city annually. Alpharetta Municipal Court handled 9,376 cases in fiscal year 2022, or about 800 cases per month.

The Alpharetta report states that Zimmerman’s dual roles in his own courtroom date back to at least 2008, and that there are at least six cases falsely showing another attorney’s name and signature as representing the defendant who was actually the judge’s client.

Zimmerman was able to accomplish the deception by filing a Plea in Abstentia, in which neither the defendant nor the attorney are required to appear in person, Rich said.

The plea documents show the defense attorney signature name as Keith F. Brandon, who shares office space with Zimmerman.

According to the Alpharetta report, Brandon told JQC officials that the signatures are not his, but he has given other people “in his office permission to sign his name, as an attorney, to pleadings.”

Brandon did not respond to email messages left by the AJC.

Zimmerman’s name as judge would normally appear on documents for cases that he presides over, but another judge’s signature is shown instead on documents for the six cases that are in question by officials, Rich said.

The report includes documents showing illegible signatures by a judge but it doesn’t mention if that person was contacted.