ATLANTA — A powerful south Georgia judge accused of indefinitely jailing defendants and abusing her judicial authority could also face criminal charges linked to one of the allegations.
The 12-count complaint filed Wednesday by the Judicial Qualifications Commission against Superior Court Judge Amanda Williams doesn’t contain any criminal charges. But it said the judge made several “material false statements” to investigators in violation of a Georgia law that makes it a crime to lie to government authorities.
Williams declined comment on the allegations when reached at her home late Wednesday.
Her attorney John Ossick declined to address any of the specific allegations or the specter of a criminal violation. He said only: “We intend to fight the charges and defend the judge.”
Williams and her attorneys have 30 days to respond to the misconduct charges in writing.
The Georgia Attorney General’s Office has declined to comment on whether it will seek a criminal investigation. But prosecutors said the law cited in the complaint is routinely invoked to charge people suspected of obstructing an investigation.
Williams, 64, is the chief judge of the Brunswick Judicial Circuit that includes Glynn, Camden, Appling, Wayne and Jeff Davis counties in southeast Georgia.
Williams has served on the bench since 1990 and oversees the largest of Georgia’s drug courts, designed to allow some drug offenders to avoid prison if they get clean through treatment programs.
Commission director Jeff Davis said his office received a complaint about Williams in fall 2010 and launched an investigation soon after. The accusations surfaced as she sought and won re-election to a sixth term on the bench last year, and her critics gained national attention in May when several of her drug defendants were featured in an hour-long program on the public radio show This American Life.
The complaint alleged she made several false statements to state investigators, including that she “knowingly denied” ordering that a defendant with a suicidal history be held in solitary confinement. It also said she denied endorsing Jackie Johnson for the local district attorney’s office in April 2009, even though the endorsement was heard by a group of female lawyers who gathered at a reception at her home.
The Georgia law cited in the complaint carries a maximum of five years in prison and makes it a felony to “make a false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation” to a state or local government investigator.
Investigators also said she committed a range of other ethical violations. She’s accused of presiding over cases involving attorneys who are her relatives, showing favoritism to some defendants and jailing a man who was seeking to be excused from a weekend class because he used the term “baby momma.”
Her case could go to a formal hearing similar to a trial as early as January unless she reaches a settlement with the agency.