Magistrate judge kept from office

Magistrate judge kept from office

August 6th, 2010 by Joy Lukachick Smith in News

RINGGOLD, GA. - A Catoosa County magistrate judge who was handcuffed and hauled out of the county courthouse in June says he illegally is being kept from returning to work.

Judge Anthony Peters said he and Chief Magistrate Donald "Sonny" Caldwell entered a "gentleman's agreement" to stay away from the courthouse after a confrontation over a complaint Peters filed against his boss.

Caldwell has returned to work, but Peters said the doors to the Magistrate's Court have been barred against him.

"I've never been given a reason why I can't get my stuff or work," Peters said.

Catoosa County Attorney Chad Young said he doesn't know, either.

"I don't know that anyone can bar (Peters) from coming back to the office," Young said.

He said only the Judicial Qualifications Commission has the authority to suspend either judge. But it has taken no action while investigating the June 16 incident.

Peters also is being investigated by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation on a separate issue, authorities said.

The Georgia Supreme Court has power to suspend judges with or without pay, but the court acts only on recommendations from the Judicial Qualifications Commission, said Jane Hansen, a Supreme Court spokeswoman.

The commission's spokeswoman, Cheryl Custer, did not return several calls seeking comment.

Peters is unable to work this week because of neck surgery, but he said that when he tried to go to his office before the surgery, he wasn't allowed inside.

Catoosa County Sheriff Phil Summers said Magistrate Court personnel have kept Peters from his office, but sheriff's deputies have not stopped him from entering the courthouse.

"He knocked on the door (of Magistrate Court), and he was refused access," Sheriff Summers said. " (But) we have never restricted him."

A deputy has been assigned to watch Peters when he does enter the courthouse because of complaints about Peters as well as to protect him, the sheriff said.

Caldwell did not return calls or messages left at his office. His secretary referred all questions to Young.

Peters' attorney, Chris Townley, said he is working with the city attorney to find Peters office space in another part of the courthouse.

"When he recovers we expect him to be back at work," Townley said.

The GBI investigation concerns a jewelry theft case involving a woman friend of Peters, authorities have said.

The Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit's district attorney's office asked the GBI to look into the incident at the end of May, said Greg Ramey, GBI assistant special agent in charge at the Calhoun office. No charges have been filed, he said.

Peters' complaint against Caldwell raises questions about the senior judge's campaign finances and about alleged misuse of county time.

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