The state entity responsible for oversight and discipline of judges across Georgia filed a 58-count charging document on Wednesday against a South Georgia judge.
Middle Judicial Circuit Superior Court Judge Robert Reeves is accused of improper temperament and comments on the bench, improper comments demonstrating bias and prejudice, improper contact with court personnel, and ethical violations surrounding the fundraising and support for a victim assistance entity in the judicial circuit.
Reeves took the bench in the Middle Judicial Circuit, which encompasses Candler, Emanuel, Jefferson, Toombs, and Washington counties, in 2007. When Judge Kathy Palmer retired in 2020, he became the circuit’s chief judge. The allegations laid out in the inquiry filed before the Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC) range in time from 2015 to 2022.
Complaints Filed Against Judge Reeves
The investigation by JQC Director Chuck Boring began after the JQC received complaints against Reeves. The charging document references a number of incidents with multiple individuals, most of whom are referenced only by their initials.
Fundraising and Promotion of Advocacy Center
The complaint alleges Reeves fundraised and advocated, in his official capacity, for the Sunshine House, which serves all of the counties in the Middle Judicial Circuit. The employees routinely testify in court in sexual assault and physical abuse cases.
From 2015 to 2022, Reeves:
- Appeared in a promotion video for the Sunshine House, in which was identified as “Judge Bobby Reeves, Superior Court Judge” and made statements including:
- “The Sunshine House makes a huge difference in affecting justice in our area because it does help immensely with the prosecution of those who have molested and abused children.”
- “It does help in getting people prosecuted. It does help in getting people convicted when they abuse children.”
- Cohosted the Sunshine House’s Facebook ‘Give-A-Thon’ Fundraiser, which was broadcasted live. He:
- was identified throughout the two hour fundraiser as ‘Judge Reeves,’
- Urged viewers to donate
- Made a $500 donation and challenged “every other judge and lawyer out there to at least match that donation.”
- Stated “I told y’all some names to call. Call those judges in every county to get them on board. They all know how important the Sunshine House is…”
- discussed the important of the Sunshine House’s work in prosecuting cases with the DA’s office
Improper and Intemperate Comments
The document alleges six incidents of commentary made by Judge Reeves, including
- 2019 (Toombs): During a criminal proceeding where a defendant had a name similar to the word ‘innocence,’ Judge Reeves called the defendant’s name and stated words to the effect of, “I guess the name didn’t take.”
- 2020/2021 (Jefferson): Judge Reeves made comments about another Superior Court Judge being too lenient and stated that he would have to “double up” (or words to that effect) on his sentencing to make up the difference. Reeves also stated that he would have to ‘do what he could to make sure that same Superior Court Judge was not assigned important cases.’
- 2021 (Toombs): When asking court attendees to remain seated until he finished his instructions, ‘an African-American male started to leave the courtroom.’ Judge Reeves then stated to the male, “[s]ir you’re walking and I’m telling you to be still. Are you really that retarded?” This occurred in open court with members of the public, lawyers, and court staff present.
- 2021 (Emanuel): When passing an Investigator with the Public Defender’s Office and the mother of a son with a pending case, Judge Reeves said to the woman, “I don’t know why you are talking to him [Investigator] about drugs. He’s the biggest drug dealer in Emanuel County.”
- 2022 (Toombs): In open court, a jailer asked Judge Reeves when the court would recess for lunch. Judge Reeves responded with words to the effect of “[g]et the people [inmates] fed? You mean we have to feed these people [inmates]?”
- 2022: During court proceedings, Judge Reeves repeatedly admonished a public defender for not having paperwork prepared properly. This occurred while the PD’s office was experiencing ‘extreme staffing shortages.’ The level of rebuke reached a point where the female public defender left the courthouse crying. After she left, Reeves remarked in open court, “if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.”
Improper Comments Manifesting Bias, Prejudice, and Sexual Harassment Based Upon Gender
The document alleges four individuals who were subject to Reeves’ comments from 2016 to 2022. The charging document states the patter of improper behavior, at a minimum, “gave the appearance of constituting sexual harassment and/or bias based upon the gender of various females involved in the middle Judicial Circuit court system.”
J.C. – An employee of the Public Defender’s Office was whistled at while walking down a one-way street. Reeves stated words to the effect of, “[w]hat’s a pretty girl like you doing walking alone?” The woman is routinely called “Miss America” by Judge Reeves and he regularly “touches J.C.’s shoulders, rubs her back, and attempts to hug her, and does so in a manner that often makes her uncomfortable.” The document says Reeves has, on multiple occasions, told J.C. he will sign documents presented to him if she smiles. J.C. began taking an PD office investigator with her to have documents signed, prompting Reeves to remark that she was ‘a big girl’ and did not need the investigator to accompany her. Members of the court system joke, the document alleges, that if documents are not signed by Reeves, they should have had them taken by J.C.
B.P. – An employee of the Public Defender’s Office was told by Judge Reeves in regard to another public defender that she needed to decide if she wanted to be a full-time mother or a full-time attorney as she couldn’t be both. The document also outlines an incident at the Emanuel County courthouse where, after returning from a family vacation, Reeves walked by B.P. and another person and said B.P.’s husband’s back would not hurt “if you didn’t do the stuff you see on TV…you know one foot on the nightstand and one foot way over here, he wouldn’t hurt his back.” The document says “While making the statement, Judge Reeves raised one of his legs up in the air and, to stabilize himself, placed one of his hands on B.P.’s shoulder.
M.B. – In June 2022, in the Emanuel Courthouse parking lot, Reeves told the woman “You have really nice legs!” The woman and Reeves had only interacted on two occasions previously.
C.P. – During a virtual meeting with the Jefferson County drug court staff in 2020, Reeves commented that he expected women to wear bathrobes and bathing suits during virtual hearings. The document also says C.P., from 2015 to 2020, witnessed Reeves inappropriately comment on the dress and appearance of other female attorneys, made comments about C.P. keeping in shape, and made negative comments about another ADA taking maternity leave.
Improper Contact with Court Personnel
The complaint outlines three allegations of improper contact:
- In 2019, former Jefferson County Municipal Court Judge Michael Howard was contacted by Reeves about a citation pending in his court. Reeves asked Howard to reduce the traffic offenses involving his acquaintance.
- In 2020, Howard was the Solicitor in Washington County and was prosecuting a case involving ~20 college students trespassing on private property. Reeves contacted Howard and said he was “calling on behalf of a friend of a friend” before discussing the appropriate resolution of the case.
- In 2020, Reeves contacted then-ADA C.P. on multiple occasions for ex parte communications. He would tell her to either dismiss or add charges to cases she was prosecuting, including two serious motor vehicle accidents.
Violations of the Georgia Code of Judicial Conduct Implicated by Judge Reeve’s Conduct
The complaint alleges ten rules of judicial conduct that have been violated by Reeves in the fifty-eight counts.
- Rule 1.1 – respecting and complying with the law
- Rule 1.2 (A) – acting in a manner that promotes public confidence in independence, integrity, and impartiality
- Rule 1.2 (B) – establishing and maintaining high standards of conduct
- Rule 1.3 – avoid lending prestige of office to advance private interests of judge or others
- Rule 2.3 (B) – shall not manifest bias or prejudice or engage in harassment (for sex, gender, disability, race, etc)
- Rule 2.4 (C )- shall not convey or enable others to convey that any person or organization is in a position to influence the judge
- Rule 2.8 (B) – shall be patient, dignified, and courteous
- Rule 2.9 (A) – shall not initiate, permit, or consider other communication made tot hem outside the presence of the parties, or their lawyers, concerning a pending proceeding or impending matter
- Rule 3.1 (C ) – Extrajudicial activities only allowed if they will not interfere with proper performance of their duties
- Rule 3.7(A)(3) – pertaining to engaging in activities concerning the law, the legal system, and the administration of justice with regard to impartiality
The complaint concluded with the following statement:
“Judge Reeves’s conduct as alleged above amounts to willful misconduct in office, habitual intemperance, and is prejudicial to the administration of justice bringing the judicial office into disrepute. Therefore, the Director hereby seeks disciplinary action for the above-stated violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct.”
The inquiry filed Wednesday is the initiating action to take the matter before the JQC Hearing Panel in a formal proceedings to determine whether Reeve’s conduct ‘constitutes violations of the Code of Conduct, and if so, the appropriate discipline.’ Reeves will have the opportunity to formally respond or have legal counsel respond on his behalf.
Reeves is represented by Atlanta attorney Lester Tate. Tate routinely represents other lawyers in their legal matters, notably Statesboro attorney Francys Johnson, who was held in contempt by Superior Court Judge Michael Muldrew, and State Representative Trey Kelley, for his role in a delayed 911 call that left a bicyclist deceased in a ditch. In both cases, Tate garnered successfully achieved dismissals, with the Georgia Court of Appeals overturning the ruling by Muldrew holding Johnson in contempt in Statesboro and charges being dismissed against Kelley in Polk County.
You can read the complaint here.
This article has been corrected to reflect that both of the other referenced cases involving attorney Lester Tate achieved outcomes favorable to the parties he represented. A previous version of the article erroneously implied that those cases were pending legal matters. We apologize for the error.