Originally created 05/04/01

Commission seeks ouster of magistrate



BRUNSWICK, Ga. - A state commission that reviews judges is recommending Glynn County Magistrate Joe Hammill be removed from office because he violated the Code of Judicial Conduct, including jailing a man without a hearing and because he has shown a "lack of competence."

The state Judicial Qualifications Commission petitioned the Georgia Supreme Court on Wednesday to immediately suspend Mr. Hammill with pay because his "continued service is causing immediate and substantial public harm and erosion of public confidence in the orderly administration of justice," according to the petition.

The petition asserts Mr. Hammill committed nine violations:

Ordered litigants in a case before him to pay money without conducting a hearing.

Issued a bench warrant for an individual for a failure to appear for a summons although he did not have the authority to arrest the individual.

Issued an order permitting police to enter a home without a lawful search warrant and to make an unconstitutional seizure of personal property.

Accepted gifts on behalf of the court from people who appeared before the court.

Improperly continued to represent clients after assuming office.

Wrote bad checks, including some on his law office's trust account.

Removed a deputy magistrate of his duties in the court after the deputy complained about Mr. Hammill's actions.

Failed to take appropriate action after hearing evidence in a case and degrading a witness who appeared before him.

Attempted to influence witnesses in the Judicial Qualification Commission's investigation of his actions.

The panel also asks the Supreme Court to appoint a lawyer to conduct a hearing on the commission's assertions. The lawyer would make a recommendation to the Supreme Court on whether to permanently remove Mr. Hammill from office, impose lesser discipline or take no action.

Mr. Hammill said he had retained three lawyers to file a response in the case and he declined further comment on the matter.

On Tuesday, Mr. Hammill said he had made some mistakes while in office but said he was taking actions to ensure he does not repeat them and did not think they warranted his removal.