Ethics charges filed against Appeals Court Judge Christian Coomer

Georgia’s judicial watchdog agency on Monday filed ethics charges against state Court of Appeals Judge Christian Coomer, alleging he violated the code of judicial conduct and campaign finance and lending laws.

It is believed to be the first time a sitting appellate judge has faced formal ethics charges from the state Judicial Qualifications Commission. Coomer, who once served as state House majority whip, was appointed to the Appeals Court by then-Gov. Nathan Deal in 2018.

In a statement, Dennis Cathey and Doug Chalmers, lawyers representing Coomer, said the judge “strongly denies” the allegations. “The allegations misstate the facts and the law, and they significantly overstep the JQC’s jurisdiction.”

Coomer has voluntarily agreed to a suspension from his judicial duties pending a resolution of the JQC proceedings, the lawyers said.

“In the coming months, it will unfortunately be necessary for him to spend a significant amount of his time defending himself against these incorrect allegations,” they said. “That will necessarily be a significant distraction from his public duties.”

The 60-page filing covers a range of alleged misconduct. Some charges involve Coomer’s representation of 79-year-old Jim Filhart when Coomer was a private attorney in Cartersville. That relationship, the charges allege, “involved dishonesty, deceit and misrepresentation.”

The filing accuses Coomer of repeatedly violating state campaign finance law by transferring funds from his campaign account to cover his law firm’s bank account when it was about to be overdrawn. It also states that Coomer, before qualifying for election for the Appeals Court seat he held, reported on disclosure forms a $50,000 loan to his campaign account that never existed.

Chuck Boring, director of the state Judicial Qualifications Commission, said the formal charges were brought after a lengthy investigation. “Our filing speaks for itself,” he said.

Chuck Boring, director of the Georgia Judicial Qualifications Commission.

Credit: Rebecca Breyer

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Credit: Rebecca Breyer

The charges now go before the JQC’s hearing panel, chaired by Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney. If the panel finds violations, it can recommend possible discipline to the state Supreme Court, which has the final say.

Previously, the state ethics commission filed separate charges against Coomer, alleging he improperly transferred almost $22,000 from his former state House campaign account to his law firm and personal banking accounts. Under state law, elected officials can only use campaign contributions to run in elections and maintain their office, not for personal expenses unrelated to campaign matters.

When those charges were filed in October, Chalmers, Coomer’s lawyer, said the complaint got “both the facts and the law wrong.”

For example, the $159,000 loan listed Filhart’s own home as security, which Coomer later called an inadvertent mistake. It also allowed Coomer’s company to repay the loan over 30 years, when Filhart would have been 106 years old, the filing states.

Later, Coomer drafted a will for Filhart and designated himself and his heirs — his wife and children — as beneficiaries, the filing contends. This gave Coomer “the authority to decide the division of Filhart’s estate to Coomer’s own benefit and to the detriment of others,” the JQC filing alleges. Coomer then drafted a new will for Filhart that made Coomer’s wife the executor, protecting his and his family’s positions as beneficiaries, the filing states.

In 2019, Filhart began demanding Coomer pay him back his money and eventually filed a lawsuit against Coomer, which was settled earlier this year.

Coomer repaid Filhart the $130,000 loan from 2018 by refinancing his home, the JQC filing contends. Although the mortgage application required Coomer to list all his outstanding liabilities, he did not disclose that the refinancing of his property was going to be used to satisfy the loan, the filing states.

While some allegations of misconduct occurred before Coomer became a judge, the filing contends that the JQC has the authority to bring such charges. It also alleges that Coomer “repeatedly violated campaign finance laws and made misrepresentations and omissions on financial documents while a Georgia Court of Appeals judge.”

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