published Saturday, April 16th, 2011

Catoosa County judge waits for trial outcome

ATLANTA — The wait begins for a Catoosa County judge on trial for accusations of using marijuana and abusing his power on the bench.

The state agency in charge of disciplining judges will take at least a week to decide if recommendations should be made to remove Catoosa County Magistrate Anthony Peters from the bench or if he should be disciplined and allowed to return to work.

“The hardest part is the wait,” Peters said Friday, a few minutes after his trial was completed. “I just want a chance to prove myself.”

In a two-day trial with a Judicial Qualifications Commission panel — only the second time such a trial has been conducted in state history — Peters told authorities he wasn’t himself when he was dependent on prescription painkillers and smoked marijuana.

“That wasn’t me at all,” Peters said during testimony Friday, then paused, trying to gain his composure. “I feel more like myself. I don’t take any pain medication anymore.”

Any decision made by the JQC must be approved by the Georgia Supreme Court. The commission will file a report of its findings, and any recommendation of discipline must come from the Supreme Court, JQC director Jeff Davis said.

On Thursday and Friday, Peters had to answer for 13 counts of judicial misconduct in the Georgia code. The JQC charged him in February, but the charges stemmed from incidents that occurred mostly between 2008 and 2010.

Peters’ attorney, Chris Townley, urged the panel — made up of four appointed members and a judge — to give Peters a second chance.

“I’m not minimizing his counts,” Townley said Friday in a soft, sober tone. “We’ve seen many people that have fallen that now have gotten back up and are in positions of respect.”

But Joe Hendricks Jr., a prosecutor from the Appalachian Judicial Circuit who represented the commission during the trial, pointed out that the hearing wasn’t for a criminal defendant but a judicial officer representing the state.

“This isn’t about Judge Peters,” Hendricks said, pounding his fist on the podium. “It’s not about whether he’s got his life straight now. It’s about the damage he’s done to this system.”

Peters, who began to serve on the bench in 1997, hasn’t been back to work since he was hauled out of the Catoosa County Courthouse in handcuffs in June. But the county has continued to pay him his annual salary of $63,000.

Townley argued that the judge was set up in June and pointed out that Chief Magistrate Donald “Sonny” Caldwell secretly taped the private meeting when the two got in an heated argument.

Peter’s ex-wife, Beth, and his current girlfriend, Julie Pitts, vouched for the judge’s character on Friday during the defense’s testimony.

“I think that my ex-husband is capable of doing his job and is a good servant to the county,” Beth Peters said. “I’m very proud of him for his resilience.”

On the stand, Peters argued that his bizarre behavior and appearance on a television show calling Caldwell “spineless” took place during a dark time in his life.

Peters admitted he used marijuana for three months to relieve himself of the pain after a spinal injury and, at the same time, was taking different kinds of prescription drugs. While Peters was prescribed depression medication and several types of painkillers, he said he has stopped taking them.

But Sherry Boston, the DeKalb County solicitor general who also represented the commission during the trial, pointed out that Peters had never sought professional help or went through a treatment program.

“You’re asking the [JQC] to let you return on the word of, ‘You’re just not going to do it again?’” Boston asked.

Peters said yes.

about Joy Lukachick...

Joy Lukachick is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press Since 2009, she's covered breaking news, high-profile trials, stories of lost lives and of regained hope and done investigative work. Raised near the Bayou, Joy’s hometown is along the outskirts of Baton Rouge, La. She has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication from Louisiana State University. While at LSU, Joy was a staff writer for the Daily Reveille. When Joy isn't chasing ...

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