A Superior Court judge from the Griffin Judicial Circuit should be suspended from office because he poses a “substantial threat” to the administration of justice, the state’s judicial watchdog agency is recommending.
Judge Mack Crawford should be relieved of his duties, with pay, while an ethics complaint against him is pending, the Judicial Qualifications Commission said. In July, the JQC accused Crawford of the theft of more than $15,000 from the Pike County court’s registry.
Crawford’s continued service on the bench “would undermine public confidence in the judiciary,” the commission said in a motion filed Tuesday before the state Supreme Court. It noted the code of judicial conduct requires judges to uphold the integrity of the court system and “avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all of their activities.”
In a prior interview, Crawford, 64, strongly denied doing anything improper. “I don’t think I’ve done anything wrong,” he said.
Crawford, a former state legislator who once headed Georgia’s public defender system, presides over cases in Fayette, Spalding, Pike and Upson counties — all south of Atlanta. His hearing before a judicial ethics panel is scheduled for early next year. If found to have violated the code of conduct, Crawford faces punishment ranging from a reprimand to removal from the bench.
The allegations against Crawford are also subject of a GBI investigation. The case dates back to 2002 when Crawford, then a private attorney, represented two clients who placed $15,675 into the court’s registry while an appeal of their foreclosure case was pending.
In 2009, a judge dismissed the case and directed the clerk “to pay the funds held in the registry of this court to the plaintiffs” — Crawford’s two clients. The funds remained in the registry until last December when the clerk told Crawford that she planned to send the money to the state as unclaimed property.
But Crawford told the clerk to give the funds to him, which she did, filings say. He then deposited $10,000 of the funds into his bank account and kept the rest — $5,675 in cash, according to GBI summaries of its investigation, which the JQC attached to its filing.
The JQC has accused Crawford of “egregious misconduct” and contended he committed theft because he was not entitled to the funds. After being confronted by the JQC, Crawford returned $15,675 to the clerk, who then sent that money to the state, court records show.
When Crawford sat down for an interview with the GBI on May 4, he said his goal in the 2002 case was to keep Timothy David Clark, one of his two clients, on the foreclosed-upon property until Clark died. And Crawford said Clark had told him to keep the $15,675 in the event that Clark died, the GBI summary says. During the GBI interview, Crawford handed over Clark’s death certificate.
One month later, Crawford called GBI agent Ryan Carmichael and said he wanted to clarify some things. Crawford acknowledged to Carmichael that he thought he had made a mistake, but he said he did not think he had done anything criminally wrong, the summary said.
On Wednesday, Virgil Brown, one of Crawford’s attorneys, called the JQC’s motion “ridiculous.” He noted that Crawford had already stopped taking criminal cases.
“I think it was rightfully his,” Brown said of the $15,675. Crawford could collect it for his legal fees and to be reimbursed for filing fees and depositions of witnesses, he said.
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.