Georgia Supreme Court removes suspended judge from Court of Appeals
ATLANTA — The Georgia Supreme Court Wednesday removed suspended Judge Christian Coomer from the state Court of Appeals.
In a unanimous decision, the justices upheld the recommendation of a state Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC) hearing panel, which found Coomer’s misuse of campaign funds and dealings with a client before he became a judge undermined public confidence.
“The judiciary’s judgment will be obeyed only so long as the public respects it, and that respect will not long survive judges who act in a manner that undermines public confidence in their judgment and integrity,” the court wrote in a 49-page ruling.
Coomer, a Republican and former state legislator, was appointed to the Court of Appeals in 2018 and elected to a full six-year term in 2020. Later that year, the JQC charged him with violating the Georgia Code of Judicial Conduct, and he was suspended from the bench with pay in January 2021 pending the outcome of the case.
The JQC recommended removing Coomer from the bench following a three-month hearing early this year.
The charges against Coomer stemmed from his relationship with James Filhart, an elderly client he began representing in 2015. Filhart hired Coomer to pursue an action for guardianship of Filhart’s girlfriend, according to the court ruling.
After the matter was resolved successfully, Coomer continued to represent Filhart in other legal matters, including drafting a will that named Coomer and his heirs among the beneficiaries and Coomer as executor and trustee.
Coomer also accepted several loans from Filhart, including a loan of $130,000 in 2018 to a business Coomer controlled that lacked assets, the ruling stated. The loan was not secured, and Coomer provided no personal guarantee.
By 2019, the relationship between the two men had soured, and Filhart e-mailed Coomer demanding that the judge return the money he had borrowed. Coomer repaid the loan in 2020 after Filhart filed a lawsuit against him.
Coomer also was accused of transferring campaign funds to his law firm’s operating account and, in two instances, failing to report the transfers on his campaign contributions disclosure report. A third instance involved a trip to Hawaii before Coomer left the General Assembly that he said was for legislative business but ultimately was found to have been for leisure, according to the ruling.
Coomer reimbursed his campaign account for expenses from the trip after the state Campaign Finance Commission began investigating him.
Wednesday’s ruling prohibits Coomer from being elected or appointed to any judicial office for seven years.
This story comes to GPB through a reporting partnership with Capitol Beat News Service.