Athens judge faces ethics charge for berating man over Facebook post

Clarke County Superior Court Judge Eric Norris. (Athens-Clarke County Unified Government)
Clarke County Superior Court Judge Eric Norris. (Athens-Clarke County Unified Government)

A judge in Athens is facing an ethics charge for calling a man into his chambers and then berating the resident for criticizing the judge in a Facebook post.

Superior Court Judge Eric Norris orchestrated the meeting with Nathan Owens last July, the state Judicial Qualifications Commission’s investigative panel said in a recent filing before the Georgia Supreme Court.

Norris used the occasion “to chastise and berate” Owens over his Facebook post, the JQC said. When Owens said he wanted an attorney, the judge told him to sit down, giving Owens the impression he was being detained, the agency said.

Dennis Cathey, a Cornelia lawyer who represents Norris, said he had no comment at this time. Owens, who has worked in the bail bonding business, also declined to comment.

Norris was appointed to the bench in 2016 by then-Gov. Nathan Deal. Earlier this month, he was named chief judge of the Western Judicial Circuit.

Owens’ July 5 Facebook post referred to what happened to Alex Mosby, a man charged with raping a woman in her Athens home in 2018.

Mosby had previously stood trial, which was presided over by Norris. When the jury said it was deadlocked 11-1, Norris asked the prosecution and the defense if they would accept an 11-1 verdict, the Athens Banner-Herald reported. Both sides agreed but the defense backed out before the verdict was read.

As it turned out, the lone holdout on the jury was the only person voting to convict Mosby. After the mistrial, Norris allowed Mosby to be released from custody on his own recognizance.

Last June, Mosby failed to show for a court appearance, prompting Owens to use social media to unload on Norris and the criminal justice system.

“No collateral was posted,” Owens wrote, referring to the recognizance bond. “No third party involved to insure accountability. … He still has not been located.”

Owens added, “Public safety is being compromised. Every parent with a daughter at UGA or in Athens should be aware and concerned for their safety with individuals such as Alex Mosby simply being able to walk out of jail with no accountability.”

Less than a week after the Facebook post, Norris arranged for Owens to come to his private chambers, the JQC said.