OPINION: Douglas probate judge must go, says judicial panel

Christina Peterson was elected as a Douglas County probate judge in November 2020.

Credit: Douglas County

Credit: Douglas County

Christina Peterson was elected as a Douglas County probate judge in November 2020.

All she wanted was to be celebrated.

Instead, Douglas County Probate Judge Christina Peterson has been utterly denounced by a state agency as an embarrassment to the bench and should be catapulted from office.

After years of investigation and days of testimony, the Judicial Qualifications Commission hearing panel this week summed up Judge Peterson as a lying, impetuous bully who was not good at her job.

The panel’s biting 54-page ruling noted her “actions in the courtroom and outside it demonstrate a consistent and persistent pattern of misconduct comprised of intemperance, judicial incompetence, and danger to the rights of litigants ....

“And so she must go.”

Peterson will argue her case to the Georgia Supreme Court, which will decide whether she remains on the job. A probate judge, according to the state’s website, performs many essential functions. The judge “administer wills and estates, appoint and oversee guardians and conservators, and issue marriage and weapons carry licenses.”

The panel consisted of Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney (of Trump case fame), former DeKalb County State Court Judge Dax Lopez and former JQC investigator Richard Hyde. They were obviously offended by her actions while in office, outside of office and while testifying in front of them.

Judge Robert McBurney.
Miguel Martinez /miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

Credit: Miguel Martinez

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Credit: Miguel Martinez

Peterson, they wrote, had a “cavalier disregard for the law as applied to (her) own conduct. ... Moreover, she has demonstrated a ‘steadfast unwillingness to accept moral accountability’ in nearly all the episodes of misconduct.”

The board noted that if the rules are “not what (she) wants, they are variously flouted; met with intransigence and hostility; challenged with the threat of legal action; or, most troublingly, cast as some racially motivated cabal.”

The panel had to chew through a thesaurus to come up with multiple synonyms for lying: “Disingenuous, if not outright dishonest;” “untruthful and evasive;” “misdirection and prevarication;” “falsely testified;” and “pattern of deception.”

And that was just page 49.

Peterson was elected to office in 2020 and, almost immediately, was hit with complaints that she went on social media to troll for people to contribute via her Cash App account to help her celebrate.

Then the hits kept coming. The hearing panel noted there was:

— the time she jailed a woman for two days for trying to amend her marriage certificate.

— the incident when she hit the panic button because a deputy did not arrive quickly enough to escort her to her courtroom.

— the episode where she snuck a wedding party into the closed courthouse even though the sheriff’s office said not to.

— the time she ordered the sheriff’s department to assign deputies to the courthouse during nights and a weekend just to mess with them.

— the dispute with her homeowners association where she sued the board and then tried to threaten them and negotiate with them, knowing they already had hired an attorney. A legal no-no.

Douglas County Probate Judge Christina Peterson (behind the woman in red) argues with neighbors at a homeowner association meeting. Photo courtesy of Fox 5.

Credit: Courtesy of Fox 5

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Credit: Courtesy of Fox 5

Here’s a beauty from the HOA meeting, according to the JQC: “After several attendees began heckling (Peterson), she engaged in hostile exchanges with them, mocked them and casted petty and sarcastic retorts like ‘You wish’ and ‘Girl, you are in a low place.’”

You know, being judicial.

Former JQC director Chuck Boring, who was with the commission when she was charged, noted that a superior court judge, a sheriff, attorneys and county residents all testified against her.

“It was truly a cross-section of the community, all demographics — racial, economic, political,” he said.

During her testimony, a tearful Peterson said, “I’m the first African American female judge who was a Democrat.” But it was not noted by the media, she said, adding, “I was never celebrated or congratulated.”

Douglas County’s first Black sheriff, Superior Court judge, commission chairwoman and tax commissioner had all been elected back in 2016.

That chairwoman, the tax commissioner and a county commissioner have since been indicted in an alleged bid-rigging scheme.

On top of that, a probate judge is rarely big news — unless they act like Probate Judge Peterson.

Her attorney, Lester Tate, a former JQC chairman, says the JQC is loading up allegations to try and bounce her from office. “They charged her with everything but the Lindbergh kidnapping and the Kennedy assassination,” he said.

He said his client admits she was wrong in jailing the woman and has made other missteps. “Are we going to remove every judge who makes a legal error?” he asked.

Tate argues many of the accusations against Peterson are covered by the First Amendment, which he will likely mention to the Supreme Court. For instance, he said, “As a member of the HOA, she is able to go there and express herself.”

“Clearly, the hearing panel did not like her demeanor or attitude,” he said.

Nor did just about everyone else.

One more note. She is running for re-election in the May primary. And so is the indicted former chairwoman and the tax commissioner.

It’s often said we get the government that we deserve.