published Thursday, February 10th, 2011

Catoosa officials want to stop paying judge

Catoosa County officials are investigating whether they can stop paying a county judge who was recently accused of using drugs and making a series of threatening or bizarre complaints.

Magistrate Anthony Peters hasn't been to work since June, when he was escorted from the Catoosa courthouse in handcuffs after an argument with his boss, Chief Magistrate Donald "Sonny" Caldwell, but he has been paid his $63,000 annual salary, officials said.

Their hands have been tied because, while Peters and Caldwell couldn't work together, state law prohibits Caldwell from firing Peters, said Chad Young, Catoosa's county attorney.

But now that the state Judicial Qualifications Commission accused Peters of 13 violations of the judicial code of conduct on Tuesday, officials hope to have the legal leverage to stop paying him, Young said.

"I'm trying to figure out if this does change the game," he said.

Judicial commission Director Jeff Davis said Peters' salary was a personnel issue for the county and not up to the state agency.

Peters declined to comment Wednesday.

The judicial commission is accusing Peters of smoking marijuana for several months, threatening co-workers and pointing a gun at himself in the courthouse.

The judge also is being investigated for strange behavior, including making calls to a local cable talk show and using different foreign accents to insult Caldwell and Catoosa County Sheriff Phil Summers by calling the men "spineless."

On Feb. 2, state Rep. Timothy Bearden, R-Villa Rica, filed a bill that could make it easier for a chief magistrate to fire one of his judges.

Although his bill is not directly related to Peters' situation, Bearden said the case is a good example of why a new law is needed. Under his bill, if the boss of an appointed magistrate petitions for the magistrate to be removed, superior court judges can vote on the petition.

Peters also is facing charges of criminal trespassing and disorderly conduct stemming from the June incident with Caldwell at the courthouse.

Townley said they will fight the allegations.

The allegations don't prove that Peters, who has been on the bench since 1997, did anything but an excellent job, Townley said.



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