Judge not told reason for firing

Judge not told reason for firing

July 13th, 2010 by Ben Benton in News

RINGGOLD, Ga. -- Ringgold councilmen on Monday wouldn't give reasons why Catoosa County Magistrate Anthony Peters was dismissed from his post as city judge, but the former judge did get an apology for the way the message was delivered.

Judge Peters, who was represented for most of his appearance by lawyer Larry Stagg, attended the meeting to ask about reasons for his dismissal in an unanimous June 14 vote that came before he became embroiled in a spat with Chief Magistrate Judge Donald "Sonny" Caldwell two days later.

Mr. Stagg said Judge Peters was concerned about the timing of the dismissal and the method of delivery because it appeared to be "pre-planned." He said a mailed version of the letter was postmarked June 17.

Mayor Joe Barger said the council directed City Manager Dan Wright to see that the letter was delivered as soon as possible, but didn't tell Mr. Wright how to deliver it.

"I'm not saying that it was the way it should've been," Mr. Barger said.

"If it was embarrassing for the way it was done, I apologize for that part of it," he said.

Mr. Stagg asked whether minutes reflecting the dismissal discussion existed, but Mr. Barger said that the discussion took place in executive session and was not publicly available or recorded in the minutes.

The monthlong public saga began June 16 when Judge Peters and Judge Caldwell got into an argument at the Catoosa County Courthouse where more than a dozen law enforcement officers were called to resolve an "administrative incident" that ended with Judge Peters being led away in handcuffs.

Judge Peters said that as he sat in a patrol car, someone poked a letter into his shirt pocket informing him that he had been relieved of the Ringgold city judge post. He was taken to the Catoosa County Jail and was later released without charges.

The two judges have since taken voluntary leaves of absence while the matter is sorted out.

Judge Peters' appearance at Monday night's meeting was the latest in a series of twists that started with Judge Peters' filing a complaint with the Georgia Judicial Qualifications Commission against Judge Caldwell that was signed and dated on May 14, according to documents obtained by the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Judge Peters' complaint raises questions about campaign finances and misuse of county time and property. Judge Caldwell has maintained his silence throughout the controversy.

Judge Peters now is the subject of GBI probe that stems, at least in part, from an unrelated investigation into a May residential burglary in Chickamauga, Ga., that named the judge's 32-year-old girlfriend as a suspect. Judge Peters, 48, was questioned but not listed as a suspect, records show.

The victim in the burglary, the girlfriend's mother, dropped the charges after most of the stolen items were returned, authorities said.

On June 21, Judge Peters went on the offensive, applying for warrants against "various magistrate judges and sheriff's personnel," including Sheriff Phil Summers, saying he was falsely arrested.

The warrant application sought against the sheriff was filed with Probate Judge Gene Lowery, who said Monday that it remains "under advisement."

The application filed against the sheriff goes through probate court because he's an elected official, while the other applications must go through Superior Court, officials said.

Superior Court officials said Monday that no action has been taken on those applications either.

Officials said both judges remain on leave, which they initiated themselves through a "gentleman's agreement," until the JQC concludes its review of Judge Peters' complaint and the fracas at the courthouse.

JQC Director Cheryl Custer could not be reached Monday but has said in the past that she cannot confirm, deny or comment on any JQC activities.

She said JQC decisions and opinions are publicly issued through the commission's website. No opinions or decisions on the Catoosa matter had been posted at press time.

After the meeting, Judge Peters said he intended to keep pressing for the reasons behind his dismissal. He said he believes the city could have violated its employment policies.


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