Atlanta Municipal Court Judge JaDawnya Baker. (Twitter.com)
Photo: Twitter.com
Photo: Twitter.com

Atlanta municipal judge accused of ethics violations

Atlanta Municipal Court Judge JaDawnya Baker used court staff to run her personal errands, improperly dismissed cases before her and has been verbally and mentally abusive to court personnel, according to ethics charges brought against her Friday.

After a lengthy investigation, the state’s judicial watchdog agency filed five charges against Baker, a former Fulton County prosecutor who has served on the Municipal Court bench since May 2015.

One accusations said Baker had a court security officer go pick up alcoholic beverages from a store and take them to an event for her. She also had a security officer drive to a store outside the city to pick up a chair and deliver it to her home, and then had a staff member drive to her home to get the chair and return it to the store, the charges said.

In a statement, Ronald J. Freeman, a member of Baker’s legal team, said, “We are confident that she will be treated fairly and fully vindicated.”

The judge and her lawyers will respond to the accusations and are confident the matter will be “handled with the utmost of fairness and due process,” Freeman said.

“It is unfortunate that this process is taking place, however it also allows for complete public transparency of the legal profession,” he said. “More importantly, it affords all parties the ability to be heard and the credibility of all witnesses to be evaluated in an open forum.”

Baker is the second Atlanta municipal judge to be charged with ethics violations by the Judicial Qualifications Commission. Last June, the JQC charged Judge Terrinee Gundy with chronic tardiness and absenteeism — and then covering it up. That case is pending.

Baker has a high profile in state legal circles. She is a past president of the Georgia Association of Black Women Lawyers and is a member of the State Bar of Georgia’s governing board. She was appointed to the bench by then-Mayor Kasim Reed.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney. (Bob Andres / bandres@ajc.com)
Photo: Bob Andres / AJC 2018 file

The charges against Baker will be heard by the three-member JQC hearing panel chaired by Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney. If the panel finds Baker violated rules of judicial conduct, it will send disciplinary recommendations to the Georgia Supreme Court, which would have the final say. Possible punishment ranges from a reprimand to removal from office.

The charges brought by JQC director Chuck Boring accuse Baker of improperly using court resources and personnel for her benefit. This includes using staff members to go shopping for her, the charges said.

Judicial Qualifications Commission director Chuck Boring, when he served as a Cobb County assistant district attorney. (AJC file)
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Baker also improperly dismissed cases that were presented to her for guilty pleas and inserted herself into plea negotiations, the charges said.

The judge repeatedly contacted City Solicitor Raines Carter and told him to remove certain prosecutors assigned to her courtroom, the charges said. On Dec. 6, when she appeared before the JQC investigative panel, Baker gave “untruthful, evasive and misleading statements” when asked if she reached out to Carter about his prosecutors, the charges said.

Finally, the accusations say Baker was abusive to her staff and court personnel. She regularly threatened employees with termination over minor issues, humiliated them in open court, chastised them if her desk was not arranged correctly and made her staff work beyond their normal hours, due in part to having them to run her errands, the charges said.

Such behavior, the charges said, ran afoul of the Code of Judicial Conduct, which requires judges to be “patient, dignified and courteous to litigants … and others with whom they deal in their official capacity.”

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