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The judge accused of a number of bad acts denies the assertions made by the state’s judicial oversight body despite being recorded on camera for at least some of the acts and even conceding that he did, in fact, commit them.
The state entity responsible for oversight and discipline of judges across Georgia filed a 58-count charging document in mid-November against a South Georgia Superior Court Judge Bobby Reeves.
Reeves, who sits on the bench in the Middle Judicial Circuit, is accused by the Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC) 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.
You can read the initial complaint here and TGV News’ coverage on the lengthy complaint here.
Response by Judge Reeves
On January 3, 2023, Reeves’ counsel asked for additional time to file the response to the allegations, which was granted by the Hearing Panel.
On January 6, Reeves filed an 18-page response to the accusations by the JQC. In it, he made some admission and concession about his behavior, but still denied all 58-charges against him. He then asked that all 58 charges be dismissed and that all costs be assessed to the Judicial Qualifications Commission, in addition to the JQC granting him any additional relief it deems warranted.
Fundraising and Promotion of Advocacy Center
The JQC complaint from November 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.
In the video, Reeves stated:
- “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.”
In his response to the JQC, Reeves admits he participated in a promotional video for The Sunshine House and was identified by his judicial title. He said he was unsure if the video, recorded in 2015, was still on the website for The Sunshine House in June 2022.
Reeves, however, denies that he helped fundraise for the organization.
“Judge Reeves further responds that at the time of his participation, his interview was not intended to be part of any fundraising efforts and he did not intend to solicit any donations on behalf of the organization. Rather, as one of the original founders of the organization, Judge Reeves gave an interview about the beginning of the child abuse prevention and treatment program and its purpose. After becoming aware that his video was being used in a fundraising context, Judge Reeves asked the organization to cease using any video depicting him and the organization agreed.”
As far as the Facebook Live video for a 2-hour fundraiser for The Sunshine House goes, Reeves admits that he co-hosted the fundraiser for The Sunshine House in December 2020 and was identified by his judicial title but said he “lacks knowledge or information sufficient to form a belief as to the truth of the comments alleged…” which included:
- him making a $500 donation and challenging “every other judge and lawyer out there to at least match that donation.”
- stating “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…”
- discussing the importance of the Sunshine House’s work in prosecuting cases with the DA’s office
“Reeves further responds that after participating in the event, he recognized that he should not have done so and communicated this to the executive director and program host, ceasing his participation in all similar programs going forward. Subsequently, Judge Reeves asked the organization to remove the video depicting his participation from the organization’s website and it was removed the following day. Judge Reeves was unaware that other copies of the program video depicting his participation were available on the organization’s social media channels.”
Improper and Intemperate Comments
With regard to the allegations of Improper and Intemperate Comments, Reeves chalked them up to ‘friendly banter,’ ‘joking manners,’ and incidents that he “does not recall.”
- Reeves said he “does not recall” asking a man if he was “really that retarded” in the 2021 Toombs County incident but remembers every other element of the incident. At the time, Reeves asked court attendees to remain seated until he finished his instructions. When ‘an African-American male started to leave the courtroom.’ Judge Reeves allegedly 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.
- Reeves said he does not recall anything about the incident in 2019 regarding the name of a defendant, but stated the incident did not occur while the defendant was in the courtroom. The 2019 Toombs County incident allegedly involved a defendant who had a name similar to the word ‘innocence.’ According to the JQC charges, Judge Reeves called the defendant’s name and stated words to the effect of, “I guess the name didn’t take.”
- Reeves said it was “friendly banter” when, in a 2022 Toombs County incident he spoke to a jailer in open court. The 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]?” Reeves also responded that no inmates were in the courtroom at the time of his comments and their family members did not become visibly upset.
- Reeves stated he “lacks information sufficient to form a belief as to the truth of the factual allegations as to what Investigator Fagler was discussing with Ms. McNeal and does not recall whether Ms. McNeal’s son appeared before him for sentencing on the same day as the incident described but otherwise admits the factual allegations of the 2021 Emanuel County incident, which alleged that 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.” In his response, Reeves said his comments were made in “a matter that was clear to all parties involved that he was joking.”
- In 2020/2021 in Jefferson County, Judge Reeves said he may have discussed privately with attorneys that Judge Smith (the other judge in the circuit) had lenient sentences and “denies ever increasing his sentences” to double up and make up for other leniency as alleged in the charges against him.
- Reeves admits that he may have said “if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen” to another attorney about a public defender. According to the charges against him, “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 Contact with Other Court Personnel
Judge Reeves denied contacting a municipal court judge about a traffic citation involving an acquaintance of Reeves.
On whether or not he contacted a Solicitor in Washington County about a 20-person trespassing case involving college students, Reeves said Judge Reeves” admits that they briefly discussed two of the cases and he related that his friend was seeking guidance as to whether the students should retain a local attorney. He was told by Mr. Howard that they did not need to retain an attorney because he would add their cases to a stack of similar cases then on his desk and they would all get a warning.”
Reeves denies improper contact allegations made by C.P. about reducing charges.
Judge Reeves denies that he “engaged in a pattern of improper behavior that, at a minimum, gave the appearance of constitution sexual harassment and/or bias based upon the gender of various females involved in the Middle Judicial Circuit court system.
Reeves denies all of the allegations alleged about whistling a Public Defender’s Office employee (J.C.) and says he does not recall any similar incidents. Charges alleged that he whistled at the employee while she walked along a street and stated words to the effect of, “[w]hat’s a pretty girl like you doing walking alone?” Reeves said he has known her and her family for years and always greets her fondly.
- Reeves denies ever trying to hug her and stated that she never expressed she was uncomfortable and has remained friendly to him.
- Reeves said he does not recall specific incidents about agreeing to sign documents presented to him if she smiles, but that “ he has previously told many different individuals approaching his bench to smile and that strict proof is required.
- He denies that he remarked J.C. was ‘a big girl’ and did not need the investigator to accompany her.
Judge Reeves denies telling a woman in the courthouse parking lot, “You have really nice legs!”
Reeves said he does not recall ever commenting to B.P. about S.P.’s needing to choose between motherhood and her legal career. Reeves says he has also “expressed sympathy in the past about the demands upon lawyers with young children with the intention of showing compassion and a willingness to help as he could.”
Reeves denies all of the allegations pertaining to C.P., citing a lack of proof. The allegations included comments about what individuals were wearing on virtual meetings during the pandemic.
Sexual Harassment Allegations-Related Admissions
- Reeves admitted to routinely calling a PD office employee “Miss America” because she would do what is known as a “pageant wave.”
- He admitted he “touched J.C.’s shoulder and, when approaching her from behind, her back, as cordial colleagues and family friends who have known each other for years might do.”
Reeves admitted that he 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. He said B.P. has told him (and others) that she knows it was intended as a joke and was upset only because the comment was made in the presence of a member of her staff.
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.