Watchdog agency investigating challenger to Fulton Trump judge

Judge Scott McAfee and Robert Patillo

Credit: AJC

Credit: AJC

Judge Scott McAfee and Robert Patillo

The state judicial watchdog agency is investigating an Atlanta lawyer challenging the Fulton County judge overseeing the election interference case against former President Donald Trump, an agency official said.

The investigative panel of the Judicial Qualifications Commission is looking into lawyer Robert Patillo’s “campaign conduct,” JQC director Courtney Veal said in a statement. Patillo is running against Superior Court Judge Scott McAfee. The contest will be decided in the May 21 primary election.

Veal sent the statement on Monday in response to a query by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution about Patillo’s campaign website, which says interested parties can email the campaign at the address Patillo is not a judge.

A canon of judicial conduct says judicial candidates shall not publish a false or misleading statement about themselves. A JQC advisory opinion also says it is inappropriate for a candidate to use the designation “judge” in political advertising if the candidate is not presently a judge.

In her statement, Veal said the investigative panel authorized her to comment on the probe. “The commission expects all judges and judicial candidates to conduct their campaigns in accordance with the Code of Judicial Conduct and the binding authority set forth in our formal advisory opinions,” she added.

Courtney Veal, director of the Georgia Judicial Qualifications Commission.

Credit: Judicial Qualifications Commissi

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Credit: Judicial Qualifications Commissi

Patillo’s campaign website address initially was He subsequently changed the site’s name to, but not the email address.

On Tuesday, Patillo said his campaign website’s address was changed after it was notified by the JQC about it. He said the campaign has not been contacted by the judicial watchdog agency since then.

“We’ve taken all the steps the JQC recommended,” he said. “We’ve taken all the measures that can be taken and we no longer have anything that says Judge Patillo. That’s all been taken down.”

Patillo isn’t the only would-be McAfee opponent facing hurdles.

Tiffani Johnson, a former Fulton Superior Court law clerk who once prosecuted misdemeanor cases and served as a public defender, was expected to appeal a decision disqualifying her from the ballot.

On April 4, a state administrative law judge upheld a voter’s challenge to disqualify Johnson’s candidacy because she lives in DeKalb County, not Fulton. Kendre-Sue Derby, a member of Johnson’s campaign team, told the AJC that Johnson would appeal that decision to Fulton Superior Court, contending she is qualified to be on the ballot because she plans to live in Fulton before she takes the bench, provided she wins the election.

Johnson has also faced questions about her campaign website, which described her as “a former Fulton County Solicitor General.” That would mean she headed that office. Instead, she was an assistant solicitor in the office, which she corrected on her website after the AJC inquired about it.

Local judicial races typically draw little attention and incumbents seldom face challengers. But McAfee has emerged as a national figure as he has steered the Fulton County case against Trump and his co-defendants. His opponents could use their platform as a proxy to criticize his oversight of the case, while his supporters could cite his handling of it in his favor.