A prosecutor dismissed criminal charges against retired DeKalb County Superior Court Judge Cynthia Becker on Monday, sparing her from having to return to court as a defendant after she was indicted last week for allegedly lying to state investigators.
Northern Circuit District Attorney Parks White said he decided against moving ahead with the case after Becker agreed to never seek judicial office again and apologize.
Becker had been accused of being untruthful when she was interviewed by the Georgia Judicial Qualifications Commission, which investigates allegations of misconduct by judges, about her handling of a public school construction contracting case.
White said he considered the strength of the evidence and Becker’s conduct before dropping the charges: four felony counts of making false statements, two felony counts of false writings and a misdemeanor count of obstruction.
White said Becker’s interview with the Judicial Qualifications Commission was supposed to be informal, and she wasn’t under oath.
“Ultimately the question at trial would have been whether or not the statements made by Judge Becker were intentional falsehoods or the product of being put on the spot …” Parks wrote in an emailed statement to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Judge Becker’s case was treated exactly the same way that any other defendant’s case would have been considered — which also included taking into consideration her lack of criminal history and years of public service.”
Becker’s attorney, Brian Steel, said she inadvertently made inaccurate statements when she was questioned in September 2014 about events that had occurred in December 2013.
“Judge Becker should never have been indicted. She committed no crime,” Steel said. “The ‘apology’ letter was simply the truth that Judge Becker’s statements to the JQC were factually erroneous, but that’s because her memory 10 months later was not sharp and the statements weren’t intentionally false, and that’s why there was no crime.”
The case arose from Becker’s decision to reject a plea agreement with former DeKalb schools Superintendent Crawford Lewis, sentencing him to immediately begin serving 12 months in jail instead of on probation. Becker said she didn’t think Lewis had been truthful in his testimony against former school construction chief Pat Reid and her ex-husband, Tony Pope, who were both convicted.
Becker told investigators several times last September that Lewis didn’t ask for bond until she had left town for a long-planned trip to attend the Army-Navy football game. During the interview, she said she “never got a call. Never got a text.”
But emails from the day Becker sentenced Lewis showed that she said she’d have to hold a hearing on his bond, and she wasn’t available for a hearing until eight days after Lewis was taken to jail.
“I am deeply sorry for my incorrect statements that I made to the JQC,” Becker wrote in her apology, according to the Daily Report newspaper. “I did not properly prepare for the Sept. 8, 2014, JQC meeting. The passage of time (almost 10 months) made my memory poor and caused me to make these statements to the JQC that were wrong.”
While Becker was out of town, the Georgia Court of Appeals ordered that a reasonable bond be set. The court also ruled later that Becker had to honor the Lewis’ plea deal.
Lewis’ case still hasn’t been resolved.
The Georgia Supreme Court will hear arguments next month about whether Becker was allowed to renege on the plea deal. The justices will consider the dilemma created when a defendant like Lewis tries to withdraw his guilty plea because of the harsher sentence but had already testified under the agreement, which effectively removed his constitutional protection from self incrimination.
Reid and Pope were found guilty on charges of racketeering and manipulating contracts so that Pope received at least $1.4 million more than he should have. Reid was originally sentenced to 15 years in prison and Pope was sentenced to serve eight years. They agreed to plea deals this year that reduced their sentences to five years each and waived their rights to appeal.
Becker resigned in March, saying she was getting married.
The Judicial Qualifications Commission ethics charges against Becker have also been concluded by her apology and decision not to seek judicial office again, said Lester Tate, the commission’s chairman.
“I’m very happy with the resolution we were able to reach with regard to the JQC charges,” Tate said. “The resolution is in line with the charges overall.”
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.