The dog ate my homework, and why Atlanta judges forgot ethics filings

In their own words: Metro Atlanta judges offered a range of excuses and explanations for why they hadn’t filed ethics disclosures or paid fines assessed by the state ethics commission.

Cobb County

“I have found that the reporting schedule of the commission can be very confusing.” Cobb County Superior Court Judge Robert D. Leonard

“I filed the personal disclosure the day I realized it was overdue…I believe the commission does a very good job nowadays of sending emails prior to documents falling due.” Cobb County Superior Court Judge A. Greg Poole

“Thank you for letting me know about that because I wasn’t notified of that, I don’t know if that’s correct. You know, just because something is put on a website doesn’t mean it’s correct.” — Cobb County Superior Court Judge S. Lark Ingram

“In a long judicial career this problem only occurred during a short period of time when the state transitioned from paper to electronic filing. Otherwise I have an unblemished record of timely filing campaign finance disclosures.” Cobb County Superior Court Judge Mary E. Staley, who was mistakenly fined but paid anyway.

DeKalb County

“Why don’t they notify me that I have a fine? If they’re so interested in everybody knowing about the fine and knowing all this stuff, it ought to work both ways, shouldn’t it? They’re just obviously not very interested in collecting the fine.” — DeKalb County Superior Court Judge Daniel M. Coursey Jr.

“I can’t imagine anyone who would sit back and not file this form especially in my case because there is nothing to report….If you hadn’t sent me that email, I was just sitting here in blissful ignorance thinking all of my forms were up-to-date.” — DeKalb County Superior Court Judge Linda W. Hunter

“It was not until you guys started calling that I even realized I had an obligation to file.” — DeKalb County Superior Court Judge Asha F. Jackson

“I was in the wrong. Obviously I should have been more astute about watching these things. They’re entitled to get that information, I didn’t provide it, so I should pay the penalty, and I paid the penalty.” — DeKalb County Superior Court Judge Clarence F. Seeliger

Fulton County

“I don’t think it’s OK at all. I think it’s negligence on my part to not have made those deadlines. I don’t think I’m above the law or regulations. I just made a mistake and didn’t meet the deadline.” — Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jerry W. Baxter

“Nobody’s ever notified me and said, ‘Oh your report was due on March 1, please get it in to avoid fines.’ Nobody’s ever done that. And I can assure you, I mean I know the judges of this state, I mean none of us want to be in that position. I mean, we’re certainly not doing anything intentionally.” — Fulton County Superior Court Judge T. Jackson Bedford Jr.

“Even when I had to pay a late fee, I haven’t heard anything from the ethics commission, which is a story I hear regularly from people that they don’t know anything about some deficiency, because the ethics commission doesn’t communicate with them.” — Fulton County Superior Court Judge Christopher S. Brasher

“You’re saying that there are some outstanding fees? I don’t even know about that. I did not know about that. I don’t think I have a notice of that.” — Fulton County Superior Court Judge Tom Campbell

“I really wish I would have tracked mine a little bit closer and it certainly would be helpful to get reminders. But at the end of the day you as the elected official are responsible for filing that disclosure.” — Fulton County Superior Court Judge Ural Glanville

“It was usually a mistake the commission had made and they assured us that they corrected it. We have always been told about…things that just didn’t work out well on their end.” — Fulton County Superior Court Judge John J. Goger

“I didn’t know if they would notify me. I just figured I owed them the money.” — Fulton County Superior Court Judge Todd Markle, who paid a fine before he’d even been notified it was due

“It seems to me that there was perhaps around that time a change from it being e-filing, from paper filing to e-filing, and that might have accounted at that time for that oversight.” — Fulton County Superior Court Judge Gail S. Tusan

Gwinnett County

“If I made a mistake and didn’t pay it, I’ll pay the fine. If I filed it timely and they made a mistake and assessed the fine, then I’ll make sure they get it corrected. That’s all there is to it.” — Gwinnett County Superior Court Judge Melodie Snell Conner

“It’s my fault I was not aware that I was supposed to file personal financial disclosures. I blame that on no one else.” — Gwinnett County Superior Court Judge Tom Davis

“Let’s face it, the buck ultimately stops with us and at the end of story, but I think making systems more user-friendly is always in our best interest and I really would love to see a feature concerning late fees, because hey, you know, if it’s there, I guarantee compliance would go up.” Gwinnett County Superior Court Judge Warren Davis

“Sometimes you just have a brain blip, and I had filed and I had been filing disclosures for years, but for some reason I had printed out the form, typed it out, printed it and mailed it. And for some reason, they didn’t accept it. And so I filed it electronically, I got a fine and I paid for it.” Gwinnett County Superior Court Judge Debra K. Turner

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