SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — A powerful Georgia judge abused her authority by ordering drug court defendants to be jailed indefinitely, presiding over cases represented by attorneys who are family members and on one occasion sending a defendant to jail because he used the term "baby momma," according to ethical misconduct charges filed by a state agency Wednesday.
The complaint by the Georgia Judicial Qualifications Commission says that Superior Court Judge Amanda F. Williams could be so harsh that in 2008 she ordered a drug-court defendant with a history of suicide attempts to be jailed in solitary confinement, with no access to visitors except a drug counselor, until the judge ordered her released. The complaint says the woman spent 73 days in solitary confinement and tried to kill herself while jailed.
"Inmate Lindsey Dills is to have NO contact with anyone while she is incarcerated. No mail, no phone calls, no visitors," the judge ordered, according the complaint.
Investigators determined that Williams should have known the jailed woman "was predisposed to suicidal tendencies, having previously signed an order placing her on a suicide-watch while she was in custody," the filing says.
The misconduct complaint doesn't contain criminal charges. But the Judicial Qualifications Commission has the power to investigate judges and recommend that they be removed from office. The agency reports to the Georgia Supreme Court.
Williams, 64, is the chief judge of the Brunswick Judicial Circuit that includes Glynn, Camden, Appling, Wayne and Jeff Davis counties in southeast Georgia. She 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.
Williams declined to comment when reached by phone at her home Wednesday evening. Her attorney, John Ossick, also declined to comment.
"I haven't even seen the complaint yet," Ossick said.
The complaint says Williams violated state canons governing judicial conduct by ordering several other drug court defendants jailed indefinitely, until she saw fit to release them.
One man, Charles McCullough, was ordered before the judge because of a failed drug test and he told her that he could prove it was a false positive — because he took two more tests immediately afterward that showed no drugs in his system. Williams ordered McCullough jailed for 17 days, the complaint says — three days for a positive drug test and two more weeks for "disputing the initial screen."
Another drug court defendant went before Williams to request an excusal from a Saturday class so he could attend a family function.
"Because of your disdain for the young man's use of the term 'baby momma,' you ordered that the defendant be summarily jailed," the complaint says.
Another drug court defendant, Alisa Branch, was deprived of her right to an attorney in 2010, the charges say, when Williams ordered her to spend a year at a treatment center with "no visitation or contact with any outside persons."
The misconduct complaint also accuses Williams of nepotism, saying she presided over cases in which her husband, lawyer James Williams, and other family members were involved as attorneys. The judge at one time named her daughter, attorney FrancesWilliams Dyal, a court-appointed guardian in a child custody case.
Williams is also accused of unbecoming behavior on the bench for "failing to be patient, dignified, and courteous to individuals appearing before you. You have used rude, abusive, or insulting language."
In one instance, investigators said, Williams screamed at a person she saw chuckling in her courtroom.
Accusations against Williams surfaced as she sought and won re-election to a sixth judicial term last year. Her critics gained national exposure in May when several of Williams' drug defendants were featured in an hour-long story on the public radio show "This American Life."
Williams will have a chance to respond to the misconduct charges in writing. Unless she reaches a settlement with the state agency, her case will go to a formal hearing similar to a trial.