by Jim Wheeless
via Upson Beacon
In April 2018 news was released of Griffin Judicial Circuit Judge Robert “Mac” Crawford being investigated by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. The investigation stemmed from allegations that Judge Crawford directed the Pike County Clerk of Superior Court to write him a check that exceeded $15,000 from the registry of the court, and he stands accused of depositing it into his personal checking account. At that time, Judge Crawford voluntarily disqualified himself from all pending and future criminal cases, to include civil forfeitures in all four counties in the circuit until further order.
In October, the Pike County grand jury indicted Judge Crawford for the alleged theft of $15,675 in court funds. Following a criminal probe by the GBI, a prosecutor from the state attorney general’s office requested the grand jury indict Judge Crawford on one count of theft by taking and one count of violation of oath by a public official.
The three-member hearing panel of the state Judicial Qualifications Commission notified Judge Crawford that he was formally suspended until further notice. The suspension was the second effort by the JQC to remove Crawford from the bench until his scheduled ethics trial. The JQC’s investigative panel asked the state high court to suspend Crawford while ethics charges against him were still pending, but the Georgia Supreme Court rejected by a unanimous vote the request to suspend Judge Crawford from the Griffin Judicial Circuit. At that time Judge Crawford remained on the bench, although he has disqualified himself from hearing criminal cases and state child support cases.
Under the JQC’s rules, the hearing panel has the authority to suspend Judge Crawford without the high court’s approval. The three-member hearing panel that handed out the suspension is comprised of Fulton County Superior Court Chief Judge Robert McBurney, Cobb County Police Department’s Mike Register, and Atlanta attorney Jamala McFadden. Judge Crawford is suspended until after his ethics trial scheduled later this month.
The Judicial Qualifications Commission was created by constitutional amendment in 1972, and then reconstituted by constitutional amendment in 2016, to conduct investigations and hearings with respect to complaints of ethical misconduct by Georgia judges. The commission is also authorized to issue advisory opinions regarding judicial misconduct.
The commission is comprised of 10 members. Seven members serve on the investigative panel and three members serve on the hearing panel. The investigative panel is responsible for investigating and prosecuting allegations of judicial misconduct. The hearing panel is primarily responsible for adjudicating hearings when the investigative panel brings such charges of misconduct.
Judge Crawford may petition the hearing panel to lift the suspension. The rules, which track language in the state constitution, also bar the commission’s findings or records regarding a suspension from being admitted as evidence in court and also dictate that they not be made available to the public.
Council for Judge Crawford has countered the allegations by declaring the funds in question are legal fees that have been owed to Crawford for 16 years from a case that originated in 2002, and the funds were properly received by Judge Crawford.
Once the JQC inquired into the payment, Judge Crawford returned the funds and the Pike County clerk forwarded the money to the Georgia Department of Revenue as abandoned funds. Judge Crawford is claiming a right to the funds and he has filed a petition in the probate court of Pike County with the intention to make a claim for attorney’s fees against the estate and to have the funds paid over to him by the State of Georgia.
Judge Crawford is a former state legislator who once headed Georgia’s public defender system and presided over cases in Fayette, Spalding, Pike, and Upson counties.