Georgia appeals judge accepts $ 25,000 fine in ethics case
A suspended judge from the Georgia Court of Appeals agreed to pay a fine of $ 25,000 to settle ethics fees he spent campaign funds for personal use.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Committee voted Thursday to approve a consent order with Judge Christian Coomer.
Commission staff said it was the biggest fine ever imposed on a Georgian judge in an ethics case.
A 2020 ethics complaint accused Coomer, a former member of the State House, of transferring money from his former legislative campaign account to financially support his former law firm between 2015 and 2019 Ethics officials called the transfers “short-term loans.”
The complaint says Coomer used campaign money to pay for trips to Hawaii and Israel.
State law prohibits candidates from using campaign funds for personal expenses.
The complaint also alleged that Coomer did not disclose the expenses related to the required reports.
Doug Chalmers, Coomer’s attorney, said Coomer could have challenged the complaint but wanted to “take responsibility” for what happened. He said Coomer had cooperated with the ethics investigation.
“The judge is pleased that we were able to find a solution in this matter,” Chalmers told the commission.
Chalmers previously said Coomer inadvertently transferred the money while using online banking, in part because all of his accounts are at the same bank. He had said that mistakes were quickly corrected.
“The judge was not personally enriched and he owes no money to the campaign, there was no willful or willful violation, and the judge self-declared some transactions,” Chalmers said in a statement. press release Thursday.
David Emadi, executive secretary of the commission, said commission investigators believed Coomer intentionally made the transfers. But he said the commission did not have to prove an intention to lay the charges.
Coomer has been the subject of a criminal investigation into allegations of fraud filed in a lawsuit brought by Nathan Filhart. The man said Coomer obtained loans from the man on extremely unfavorable terms while he was a private lawyer in Cartersville.
Coomer was elected to the General Assembly in 2010. He was House Majority Whip in 2018 while then Governor. Nathan Deal appointed him to the Court of Appeal.
Georgia’s judicial oversight agency, the Judicial Qualifications Commission, filed charges against Coomer late last year alleging he violated the judicial code of conduct, as well as campaign finance laws and loans.
Coomer, who strongly denied the fraud allegations, paid off the loans in full, Filhart’s attorney Wright Gammon said. In July 2020, Coomer settled the lawsuit filed by Filhart under conditions that remain confidential.
Coomer voluntarily agreed to a suspension of his judicial duties during the judicial disciplinary proceedings. While suspended, the state pays his salary of $ 196,000 and pays another judge to do his job.