Suspension imposed after appeals judge is accused of making himself a beneficiary of ex-client's will
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The Georgia Supreme Court has suspended a state appeals judge with pay during an ethics investigation.
The court suspended the judge, Christian Coomer, on Wednesday, Law360 reports.
Coomer is also accused of drafting an irrevocable living trust for the client that designated Coomer as the trustee and beneficiary, with the power to transfer funds to himself while the client was still alive, according to the Dec. 28 charges by the Georgia Judicial Qualifications Commission.
A company owned by Coomer is also accused of borrowing $369,000 in a series of three loans from the client, the first of which was paid off on the day that the second loan took effect. Two of the loans listed the client’s own home as security, which Coomer later attributed to a scrivener’s error. The third loan was unsecured. Coomer has since repaid all of the loans.
The former client, James Filhart, is now 79 years old, the commission said in the Dec. 28 charges. Coomer began representing Filhart when the client sought guardianship of his girlfriend in a nursing home. Coomer charged $80,000 for the representation but did not provide itemized billing records when Filhart asked for them, the commission alleged.
That commission has alleged that Coomer transferred funds from his campaign account to his law firm account to cover minimal or overdrawn balances. The charges also allege that he declared a $50,000 loan to his campaign that was fictitious, according to previous coverage by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Law.com.
Coomer’s lawyers issued a statement that strongly denied the allegations after ethics charges were filed in December. The allegations “misstate the facts and the law” and “significantly overstep the JQC’s jurisdiction,” the statement said.
The statement said the Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission has not found any campaign finance violations by Coomer, and it’s inappropriate to base judicial ethics charges on violations that fall within the jurisdiction of a different agency.
Coomer had agreed to an interim suspension, although he denied any wrongdoing.
On Monday, the Georgia Supreme Court had refused to suspend Coomer because the Georgia Judicial Qualifications Commission did not provide an affidavit or other verification by someone with personal knowledge of the facts supporting the ethics allegations. On Wednesday, the court said the commission had since provided sufficient information.
Coomer, a former Georgia state representative, was appointed to the appeals court in 2018 and elected to the position last year. A retired judge was appointed to fill in for Coomer, Law360 reported.
The ethics investigation began after a lawsuit alleged Coomer committed malpractice, fraud and breach of fiduciary duty in his representation of Filhart. The suit settled earlier this year.
Updated Jan. 7 at 12:24 p.m. to reflect that the suspension has since been imposed and no longer sought.