Appeals judge kicked off bench; 'the judiciary has no place for dishonest persons,' top state court says
The Georgia Supreme Court has removed a state appeals judge from office after concluding that he took advantage of an elderly client and used campaign cash for a vacation.
Georgia Court of Appeals Judge Christian A. Coomer, a former member of the Georgia House of Representatives, was removed from the bench after a paid suspension that began in January 2021.
“We do not expect judges to be perfect; judges are human,” the Georgia Supreme Court said. “But we can and do expect them to be honest. The judiciary has no place for dishonest persons.”
The Georgia Judicial Qualifications Commission initially recommended removal in January, but the state supreme court ordered a reevaluation in March for two reasons. First, the Georgia Code of Judicial Conduct does not reach actions of lawyers before they become judges or before they campaign for a judgeship. In addition, the Georgia Supreme Court found that the conduct commission used the wrong standard to evaluate Coomer’s actions and must consider whether he acted in bad faith.
The commission again recommended removal after its new evaluation, and the Georgia Supreme Court agreed.
The state supreme court found wrongdoing that began while Coomer’s judicial application was pending and after he took the bench—time in which the judicial code applied.
That conduct included taking a loan from an elderly client for Coomer’s company that was unsecured and didn’t require payment until after the client would be more than 80 years old. Coomer also drafted a new will for the client after becoming a judge that named himself and his heirs as beneficiaries. Coomer’s wife was named executor and trustee.
When the client complained that he had to pay taxes on stock that he sold to finance the loan, Coomer “disingenuously feigned ignorance about the stock transaction,” the Georgia Supreme Court said. He also stalled when the client requested documents.
Coomer repaid the loan after the client sued. Coomer had claimed that it was the client’s idea to name Coomer’s wife as the new executor and trustee, but his testimony was contradicted by the client and Coomer’s wife, the state supreme court said.
Coomer also transferred campaign funds to his law firm operating account, money Coomer said was intended to reimburse his assistant for campaign or legislative work. There was no record, however, documenting that work.
Coomer also used campaign funds for a Hawaii trip after his judicial appointment was announced. Coomer later reimbursed the campaign account after the Georgia Campaign Finance Commission began an investigation.
The Georgia Supreme Court noted Coomer’s argument that the evidence supports different findings and said there is evidence that could have supported those findings.
“This is a close case from an evidentiary perspective; the evidence may very well have supported different findings, especially as to bad faith,” the Georgia Supreme Court said. “But having determined that the relevant findings that the hearing panel made are supported by sufficient evidence, our decision about the proper sanction is not a difficult one.”
Hearing panel findings “show that Judge Coomer has exploited a vulnerable person, has repeatedly violated campaign finance rules and flouted professional norms, and has done so knowingly and for his own personal financial benefit,” the Georgia Supreme Court said. “His continued service would undermine the public’s confidence in the judicial system as a whole. Based on all of these aspects of Judge Coomer’s actions, we conclude that removal is the appropriate sanction.”
Coomer provided a statement to Law.com.
“While I am certainly disappointed with this outcome, I acknowledge that my own errors in judgment resulted in the Supreme Court’s decision,” Coomer said. “I will use this setback as an opportunity to reexamine my flaws and do better. I remain committed to my core values of dedication to God and my family and engagement in service to others.”