Fulton judge favored her sorority sister, mishandled cases, judicial agency alleges

Shermela Williams faces 17 counts of violating the Georgia Code of Judicial Conduct
A judge's gavel rests on a book of law. (Dreamstime/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

A judge's gavel rests on a book of law. (Dreamstime/TNS)

A Fulton County judge has been accused by Georgia’s judicial watchdog of giving preferential treatment to a sorority sister in a child custody case and making litigants in other domestic cases wait up to two and a half years for rulings.

Shermela Williams, a judge on the Fulton County Superior Court since January 2021, is charged with violating the Georgia Code of Judicial Conduct. She faces 17 counts brought by the state’s Judicial Qualifications Commission.

Williams did not immediately respond to questions about the charges, filed June 6 with the Georgia Supreme Court. Her attorney, Gabe Banks, said Williams looks forward to defending her actions, as a judge “with a reputation for fairness and dedication to justice.”

“Judge Williams remains committed to upholding the highest standards of judicial conduct and ensuring that all proceedings are conducted with fairness and integrity to all people who appear in front of her,” Banks told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The charges stem from three separate complaints filed against Williams in response to her handling of eight different cases.

The first complaint alleges that Williams was assigned a child custody case filed in September 2021 against an attorney who belonged to the same sorority as Williams and who was involved in unrelated cases on the judge’s roster. When the mother’s lawyer asked if the case could be assigned to another judge, Williams directly called the mother on her personal cellphone to discuss the case, the JQC alleges.

Williams did not tell the father who had filed the case that she had directly discussed it with the mother, or that she had canceled an initial hearing to avoid the mother’s colleagues and clients learning about the case.

During a December 2021 hearing, the father’s attorney raised concerns about Williams’ handling of the case. The following month, the mother’s attorney asked Williams to recuse. In February 2022, the father’s attorney also asked for Williams’ recusal.

Days later, Williams discussed the case with a lawyer who wasn’t involved, the JQC alleged. Williams told the lawyer that she didn’t want to recuse because that might impact her in a future election, and complained that the mother had “made it personal,” according to the charges.

The mother learned about the conversation from the lawyer, who said Williams had threatened to award custody to the father, the charges state.

“Judge Williams permitted a relationship to influence her judicial conduct and judgment,” the JQC said. “Judge Williams failed to perform her judicial duties competently and without bias or prejudice.”

Three days after Williams was notified by the JQC that a complaint had been made against her, she denied the mother’s recusal request in a seven-page order, in which she denied having directly discussed the case with the mother. Minutes later, Williams voluntarily recused herself from the case, claiming concern over the mother’s “misrepresentations” about it, the charges state.

“Judge Williams failed to act in a manner that promotes public confidence in the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary,” the JQC said.

Other complaints lodged against Williams in 2023 allege she made litigants in seven domestic cases wait between 14 and 30 months for rulings, despite being repeatedly asked to move the cases along. In two child support cases, Williams issued final orders two and a half years after final hearings, the JQC said.

Williams only issued rulings after being warned that her tardy handling of the cases had prompted complaints to the JQC, the charges state.

“Judge Williams’ conduct as outlined above amounts to willful misconduct in office; willful and persistent failures to perform the duties of office; and conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice which brings the judicial office into disrepute,” the JQC said.