published Wednesday, February 5th, 2014

Attorney questions Chattooga County judge's conduct

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    McCracken Poston
    Photo by Angela Lewis.
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Hours after a Chattooga County Superior Court judge ordered a convicted stalker to stay away from his ex-girlfriend, another judge told the man and woman to come together in his courtroom.

Now the woman's attorney is accusing the second judge of overstepping, and is challenging the judge's action because of a personal relationship with the man.

The woman's attorney, McCracken Poston, charged Chattooga County Magistrate Tracy Maddox overstepped when he ordered 34-year-old Candice N. Cox of Calhoun, Ga., to meet in his courtroom with Shannon W. Hellard.

"Hellard needs to know he can't hide from the Superior Court order, and he can't use his magistrate judge connections to thwart it," Poston said. "They call it 'Superior Court' for a reason."

Georgia Judicial Qualifications Commission Director Jeff Davis recently declined comment on the case. The state's constitution prohibits members of the commission from confirming or denying an investigation.

Cox first applied for a temporary restraining order against Hellard on Dec. 18. She claimed Hellard pulled her hair and threatened to kill her. She said Hellard announced he was also going to kill another ex-girlfriend and the rest of that woman's family.

Hellard, of Menlo, denies all of those allegations.

When Cox went to Chattooga County Superior Court on Jan. 6 to apply for a new, year-long restraining order, Hellard did not show up to tell his side of the story. Judge Brian House approved the order, which meant that until Jan. 5, 2015, Hellard could not contact Cox or come within 150 feet of her. If he does either of those things, he will have committed aggravated stalking, a felony.

Yet just hours after House issued the restraining order, Chattooga County Magistrate Tracy Maddox called Cox and told her that she was due in his court later that week. Maddox said that Hellard claimed she was actually the one who was harassing him, so he took out a warrant against her.

At the time, Cox said, she didn't know much about the county's judges or how they worked. So she showed up to court on Jan. 9 and sat in a room with nobody else except Maddox, two deputies and Hellard, who has been imprisoned three times since 2002 -- most recently for stalking and threatening a former girlfriend in Monroe County four years ago.

During the meeting, Cox promised to drop the restraining order. Now, though, she says she had no intention of doing that. She says she felt pressured.

"I was confused and terrified," she said. "I thought I was going to jail."

In fact, Cox now believes the whole meeting was wrong. She recalls Hellard boasting about his courthouse connections, bragging that he sometimes hunts with Maddox.

Poston argues the personal relationship between Hellard and Maddox spoils Maddox's reputation. He said the judge should not have thrown himself into the middle of a friend's court case. And, even if Maddox and Hellard did not know each other, the judge should not have gotten involved with a case that another court had already handled.

Maddox may have violated another policy when he called Cox to discuss the warrant her former boyfriend had taken out against her. According to Canon 3 of Georgia's Code of Judicial Conduct, a judge cannot initiate a conversation with one party in a pending case. He must talk to both sides at the same time.

House, meanwhile, did not return multiple calls seeking comment about another judge ordering Cox and Hellard to contradict the restraining order he had signed.

For their part, Hellard and Maddox both deny any previous relationship. They say they've never hunted together and had not met until January.

Maddox also says he didn't know that there was a one-year restraining order against Hellard. He thought there was only a temporary restraining order. But either way, the judge says, he has every right to bring Cox and Hellard together in his court.

"That's a complete non-issue," he said of the restraining order. "How else is the other side going to help themselves?"

Cox and Hellard began dating in October after chatting on PlentyOfFish.com. He had a criminal past, and one of his ex-girlfriends was pregnant with his child. But at first, he charmed Cox.

He hung on her every word. He held the door for her. He bought her roses. In the cold, he slipped a coat over her shoulders.

About a month after they met, though, she said Hellard began to scare her. She said he went into a rage, almost out of nowhere. On Dec. 15, she told him she was going to end the relationship. She immediately took it back.

"He's got these wild eyes," she said. "I could tell he was going to get mad. And I'm a chicken."

The next day, she broke up with him on the phone. Two days after that, she went to Chattooga County Superior Court and requested a temporary order of protection. House granted it.

Hellard gives a different version of events. He denied pulling Cox's hair or threatening to kill her. He said that even after Cox took out the first restraining order she wouldn't stop bothering him.

She kept calling, kept texting. The weekend before Jan. 6, she stayed at his house and allegedly said she would drop the restraining order.

So when he found out a judge actually had extended the order, Hellard filed a "Good Behavior" warrant. A "Good Behavior" warrant is similar to a restraining order, in that one side of a relationship claims the other person has been harassing him or her. In this case, if he believed Cox actually harassed Hellard, Maddox could have ordered Cox to pay a bond to ensure that she wouldn't bother him anymore.

But that didn't happen in court on Jan. 9. After Cox waited in an empty room for a couple of minutes, Maddox walked in with two deputies before waving Hellard into the room.

"I asked them if it was something that they could resolve," Maddox said.

Both sides said yes, they could come to a solution. Cox said she would schedule a hearing to drop the restraining order, and Maddox left the room. Then, the deputies left Cox and Hellard alone, and he walked her out of the courthouse, toward her car.

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or at tjett@timesfreepress.com.

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