Special prosecutor sought to investigate N. Ga. judge

A North Georgia district attorney asked that a special prosecutor be named to decide if criminal charges should be brought against a Superior Court judge accused of taking state computers, insulting and threatening court staff and repeatedly failing to rule on cases.

Joe Hendricks -- district attorney for Pickens, Fannin and Gilmer Counties – made the request of state Attorney General Thurbert Baker on Wednesday, two days after the Judicial Qualifications Commission officially brought 11 counts of judicial misconduct against Judge Oliver Harris "Harry" Doss Jr.

Doss has said he will resign effective Dec. 5.

Hendricks wrote in his letter an outside prosecutor was needed because his office already had a “general awareness” of the alleged misconduct and because some of the “acts of misconduct have been directed personally against members of my staff.”

Baker’s office was closed for the Veterans Day holiday so no one could be reached for comment Wednesday on whether a special prosecutor will be appointed.

Doss did not respond to a message left on his cell phone and his attorney, Norman Underwood, declined to comment until he had spoken with his client.

Hendricks, who could not be reached for comment Wednesday, repeated in his letter to Baker some of the 11 charges made by the Judicial Qualifications Commission. The allegations were the subject of a Nov. 1 Atlanta Journal-Constitution story.

Hendricks suspects Doss:

-- May have committed simple battery or simple assault when he allegedly made contact with a law clerk and his secretary in an “insulting and provoking manner.” Hendricks also references an occasion when Doss allegedly threw documents at a Gilmer County clerk while in court.

-- May have falsified a public document when he allegedly asked a probation officer to change paperwork to indicate that a Gilmer County defendant was give pre-trial diversion, a form of incarceration, instead of probation.

-- May have stolen public documents when he “routinely and improperly took from the courthouses in Pickens, Gilmer and Fannin Counties the original and official clerk’s file of pending cases.”

-- May have committed theft by conversion by a government official when he allegedly used county money to buy a baby seat for an employee and to allegedly distribute $300 in bonuses to his staff.

-- May have committed theft by conversion also when he allegedly took four state-owned laptop computers.

Hendricks said Doss gave one laptop to his wife. “A significant amount [of] work for Ms. Doss’ private law practice was discovered [on the computer] as well as files that appeared to be related to Judge Doss’ judicial work,” Hendricks wrote.

The DA said Doss’ son got a laptop for his school work.

A laptop delivered to the judges office on May 30, 2008, “remains missing,” Hendricks wrote. “Reportedly it was disposed of when it failed to operate properly. This is suspicious given the fact that the computer was likely still under warranty when it disappeared.”

As for the fourth laptop. Henderson wrote that an inspection of the hard drive revealed “some disturbing pornographic images.”

One of those laptops -- it's unclear which one -- went to Doss' former law clerk to use in her private law practice.

Hendricks wrote that Doss claimed he was allowed to use the laptops for "non-judicial" purposes to compensate him for "the hours of of work done by my spouse and her staff and the use of my spouse's professional equipment for the benefit of the Appalachian Judicial Circuit."

The commission's charges also touch on his temperament and his competence, accusing him of undignified behavior and bias.

The commission, which is composed of seven volunteers, serves as judge and jury in formal trials of judges accused of misconduct. It then makes a recommendation to the Supreme Court of Georgia, which has final say on whether errant judges should be removed from the bench.