RINGGOLD, Ga. -- Investigations by a judicial oversight commission, the GBI and the Catoosa County Commission temporarily have taken two county magistrate judges off the bench.
Thursday, the Georgia Judicial Qualifications Commission and Catoosa County Commission began investigating a Wednesday dispute between Chief Magistrate Judge Sonny Caldwell and Magistrate Judge Anthony Peters that ended with Judge Peters in handcuffs.
Later in the day Thursday, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation confirmed it is looking into two separate incidents involving Judge Peters. Greg Ramey, GBI assistant special agent in charge at the Calhoun office, would not discuss the investigation other than to say it wasn't something related to the magistrate office. He said the agency had received a request from the Lookout Mountain district attorney's office to investigate an incident that occurred May 28 in Walker County.
"Typically we don't investigate things if they're not criminal in nature," he said.
Just before 3 p.m. Wednesday, more than a dozen officers responded to a panic alarm from the magistrate's office at the county courthouse over an "administrative incident," according to Catoosa County Sheriff Phil Summers, who issued his first news release on the matter after noon Thursday.
Catoosa County Magistrate Anthony E. Peters walks from Ringgold City Hall after he was suspended by the Georgia Judicial Qualifications Committee in this file photo. Staff Photo by Andy Johns/Chattanooga Times Free Press.
The sheriff's news release said deputies "escorted Anthony Peters from the Catoosa County Judicial Building to the Sheriff's Office" and that he was released after an investigation with no charges filed. Judge Peters said he was handcuffed at gunpoint and taken to a holding cell at the county jail.
Judge Peters said that, as he was handcuffed and walking toward the squad car Wednesday, someone stuck a letter from the Ringgold City Council in his shirt pocket informing him he had been relieved of his post as the city's judge Monday night. He asked Thursday to be added to the July 12 Ringgold City Council agenda to discuss the decision.
Thursday morning, Judge Peters said he and Judge Caldwell had been suspended by the qualifications commission. He said they forged a "gentleman's agreement" during a "tense" meeting Thursday to leave the courthouse until there was a ruling from the commission.
Attempts to reach officials from the qualifications commission and Judge Caldwell were unsuccessful Thursday.
Attempts to reach Judge Peters after the statement from the GBI also were unsuccessful, but earlier in the day he said he was being set up and his enemies were trying to make him seem crazy. He left the courthouse Thursday morning with a fiddle case and a sack of his belongings, explaining that he didn't want anyone to plant drugs among his things. The judge, who is going through a divorce, recently shaved his head and his eyebrows.
"People think because I cut my hair I've gone crazy," Judge Peters said. "It's easy to take care of in the morning."
In Georgia, magistrates must have a high school diploma or the equivalent, be 25 years old and have been a resident of their county for at least 12 months. Among their duties:
* Issue warrants
* Preside over some types of hearings
* Hear small-claims cases in disputes of $15,000 or less
* Handle landlord-tenant disputes
* Preside over some misdemeanor and city ordinance trails
Source: Catoosa County Attorney's Office
Mr. Peters said Judge Caldwell began retaliating against him when he learned Mr. Peters intended to run for the chief magistrate post in the next election cycle. He also said he'd told Judge Caldwell on Wednesday that he had filed a complaint with the Judicial Qualifications Commission in May.
The Times Free Press has obtained a copy of the complaint, which raises questions about the senior judge's campaign finances and about misuse of county time and property.
Robert Herriott, of Carrollton, Ga., who resigned from the qualifications commission a month ago, said anyone discussing a complaint -- including the filer -- risks being held in contempt of court. He said he was not aware of the activities in Catoosa County.
The commission is the decision maker when it comes to booting deputy magistrates from the bench. They are appointed by a Superior Court judge based on recommendations from the elected chief magistrate.
"The only people that can really make them leave is the (commission)," said Catoosa County Attorney Chad Young. "There's not a whole lot of action we can take."
Neither of the suspended magistrate judges is a practicing lawyer in Georgia, according to Deja Mathews, an administrator for the Georgia State Bar Association.
Ms. Matthews and a Lookout Mountain Bar Association spokeswoman both said they have no records on Mr. Caldwell or Mr. Peters.
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Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...
Andy began working at the Times Free Press in July 2008 as a general assignment reporter before focusing on Northwest Georgia and Georgia politics in May of 2009. Before coming to the Times Free Press, Andy worked for the Anniston Star, the Rome News Tribune and the Campus Carrier at Berry College, where he graduated with a communications degree in 2006. He is pursuing a master’s degree in business administration at the University of Tennessee ...