Judge arrested at Atlanta nightclub removed from office

Christina Peterson’s 30 judicial misconduct charges unrelated to recent arrest.
Douglas County Probate Judge Christina Peterson wipes away tears during a news conference at her attorney's office following her arrest at a Buckhead nightclub. (Photo by Ziyu Julian Zhu/AJC)

Douglas County Probate Judge Christina Peterson wipes away tears during a news conference at her attorney's office following her arrest at a Buckhead nightclub. (Photo by Ziyu Julian Zhu/AJC)

The metro Atlanta judge arrested outside a Buckhead nightclub after allegedly hitting a police officer has lost her job in response to 30 ethics charges brought by the Georgia Judicial Qualifications Commission.

Douglas County Probate Judge Christina Peterson, 38, has been fighting judicial misconduct allegations since she was elected to the bench in an uncontested November 2020 election. In late March, the JQC’s hearing panel recommended that Peterson be removed from office, citing her “systemic incompetence.”

The Georgia Supreme Court decided Tuesday that Peterson’s removal from the bench is warranted, saying some of her conduct “portrays to the public an image of a judge who believes she is above the law.”

“Removal is the appropriate sanction,” the court said.

Peterson addressed the court’s decision in an Instagram post, saying the JQC is among her “political enemies” that have worked “to tarnish my name and good reputation.”

“These attacks on me have been occurring since 2015 and got stronger and more aggressive when I was elected judge,” Peterson said in the post. “This is a setup and this is not justice. Once I became a judge, my access to justice was denied! Question is, who will fight for me?”

The court’s decision comes just days after Peterson was arrested at the Red Martini Restaurant and Lounge shortly after 3 a.m. June 20. Peterson was charged with battery and felony obstruction.

The case before the state Supreme Court did not include the criminal charges.

Douglas County Probate Judge Christina Peterson was booked into the Fulton County Jail on Thursday. She is charged with battery and felony obstruction.

Credit: Fulton County Sheriff's Office

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Credit: Fulton County Sheriff's Office

Lester Tate, Peterson’s attorney in the ethics case, said he is pleased he managed to fight the JQC’s efforts to temporarily suspend Peterson and get some of the counts against her dismissed, “even though today we lost the ultimate battle.”

“As a trial lawyer, you never like to lose a case,” he said. “I will let my client speak to the substance of the charges because it is and has been her case.”

JQC director Courtney Veal said Peterson’s removal was the only fitting sanction, considering her “unbroken pattern of misconduct” that has harmed Douglas County’s community and judicial system.

“Today is a good day for the citizens of Douglas County and our judiciary,” Veal said.

Peterson had already lost her bid for another term in office, defeated in the May Democratic primary by Douglasville attorney Valerie Vie, who does not face a Republican challenger in the November general election.

Douglas County Superior Court Chief Judge William McClain said he will appoint a replacement probate judge to serve the remainder of Peterson’s term.

“There will be a short interruption in services that only a judge can provide -- a matter of days,” McClain said in an order Tuesday.

David Corbin, Douglas County’s administrator, said support will be provided to court staff as needed.

“We respect the Supreme Court’s decision and remain committed to our mission of providing superior public service,” he said.

Peterson was charged with violating the Georgia Code of Judicial Conduct in a variety of ways. At one point, she faced 50 separate counts, but 20 were withdrawn or dismissed.

A University of Georgia School of Law graduate who practiced as an attorney for several years before taking the bench, Peterson was accused of inappropriate social media posts, unnecessarily jailing and fining a woman who sought to correct a mistake on her marriage license and letting wedding participants into Douglas County’s courthouse after hours without permission. She was also abusive toward a fellow judge and other county officials, obstructed access to public records and had improper contact with a litigant, among other things, the JQC alleged.

Commission members also took issue with Peterson’s conduct as a judicial candidate. She publicly made ribald jokes, solicited money for her birthday and promoted events at Atlanta bars in connection with her 2020 election bid. They also found fault with her behavior at a 2022 meeting of her homeowners association, saying she mocked several attendees and lobbed “petty and sarcastic retorts” while inappropriately trying to influence a pending lawsuit that she had filed against the association and its directors.

A 2020 social media post that got Douglas County Probate Judge Christina Peterson in trouble with the Georgia Judicial Qualifications Commission asked for followers to share "their quarantine wealth" to her cash app.

Credit: Special

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Credit: Special

The court said Peterson’s decision to jail and fine the woman who sought to correct her marriage license was the most troubling aspect of the case. Peterson did not warn the woman that she might be held in contempt of court, and did not allow her to seek legal representation before determining that she had lied to the court.

Peterson sentenced the woman to the maximum punishment of 20 days in jail, with the opportunity to be released from custody after two days upon payment of a $500 fine.

“Judge Peterson made an unsubstantiated finding that the petitioner was somehow attempting to defraud the court, and then unjustifiably held her in contempt,” the court said. “Judge Peterson, in testifying before the (JQC) panel, lied about the basis for her contempt ruling. (That false testimony) indicated that she was attempting to conceal her wrongdoing.”

Peterson’s communication with represented parties about the homeowners association lawsuit she had filed against them “paint a picture of a judge who will bend the rules when it serves her self-interest,” the court said.

In relation to her arrest, Peterson said that it was “a setup” and that she was only trying to help a woman who was being attacked outside the club. After being released from the Fulton County Jail on a $5,000 bond, Peterson held a news conference at her attorney’s office, where her recollection of events was backed up by two women who said they were involved in the incident.

Body camera footage of Peterson’s arrest was released late on June 21 by the Atlanta Police Department. An officer stated in an incident report that Peterson punched him in the chest and neck area.

Atlanta police body camera footage shows Douglas County Probate Judge Christina Peterson as she's apprehended following an altercation at a Buckhead nightclub.

Credit: Atlanta Police Department

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Credit: Atlanta Police Department