Judge C.J. Becker of the DeKalb Superior Court pulled the ripcord today. She’s out.
Becker announced in an open letter that she plans to resign later this year. The resignation, she said, has been expected for some time. Becker’s getting married … and that apparently is enough reason to quit the bench. (Perhaps her fiancé lives out of state.)
But Becker’s resignation comes after her order for a new trial of two contractors convicted of corruption slapped up against a bruised DeKalb District Attorney Robert James. The DA is smarting right now after the hung jury in the Burrell Ellis trial, and this order threatens to undo one of the few corruption convictions he’s been able to land.
James requested a Judicial Qualifications Board investigation of Becker’s contact with the attorneys for the two convicted school fraudsters, Pat Reid and Tony Pope. Their fraud conviction last year hinged on testimony offered by former DeKalb school superintendent Crawford Lewis, testimony Becker believed was untruthful.
(For what it’s worth, Becker presided over the Tom Owens case, throwing out his ridiculous temporary protective order barring me from contacting him. She struck me as quite fair with little patience for prevarication. But, of course I would think that. I prevailed.)
Nonetheless, I think Becker’s getting screwed.
Becker didn’t order a new trial because she thinks Pope and Reid are innocent. She ordered a new trial because Crawford Lewis appears to have been lying to protect many, many other people who engaged in fraud. Allowing him to skate with 12 months of probation while two people who aren’t quite as connected go to jail for long prison sentences effectively green lights worse abuses.
Becker threw out the plea bargain James cut with Lewis for his testimony and ordered him to jail. An appellate court set aside her order. So she played the only marker she had left — setting aside the convictions, based on her belief that the conviction stemmed from false testimony.
I like James. I get where he’s coming from. If he doesn’t defend the integrity of a plea deal, no one is going to plead out to anything. Every corrupt government official and contractor will simply go to trial and take their chances in front of a DeKalb County jury. Never mind the odds, look at the workload — James’ crew will lose cases simply because they’ll be outmanned.
But Becker has an obligation to defend the integrity of her courtroom. And that’s more important. Because any deal that allows the politically connected to escape equal consequences for their actions doesn’t fight corruption; it perpetuates corruption.
Becker’s letter follows below the fold.
Letter from DeKalb County Superior Court Judge C.J. Becker:
Recent headlines, articles, and commentary in the media require my direct response to the DeKalb County citizens who have entrusted me with the office and duties of Superior Court Judge.
First, I have, in each and every case before me, made findings of fact based on the evidence as I heard it. I have then applied the law to those facts in making my decisions. I have never considered: the position any individual held, who the lawyers were, the socio-economic status, political agendas, or any inappropriate matter. I have made decisions based on the law, period. That is what my Oath of Office requires and justice demands.
Second, it is alleged that I had an improper, secret communication with the attorneys for two defendants. That is not so. Factually, I received the Order from the Court of Appeals on Thursday, October 24th. After reading that directive and researching the law, I concluded that I would have to give those two Defendants a new trial (a “Do Over”) in the interests of justice. I removed myself as the Judge of any re-trial, since I had made factual determinations as to the credibility of certain testimony. That decision was made Friday, October 25th, and a rough draft of the Order was created; however, I wanted to carefully consider the ramifications of my findings and the possibility of a re-trial, so I held my decision over that weekend for further reflection and prayer.
Monday morning, October 28th, after making all of the substantive decisions in the case, I confirmed that the Defendants were no longer in the DeKalb County jail, and that they were located somewhere in the State prison system. I called their attorneys to verify the exact locations of each Defendant. It was important that the Orders go directly to those prisons, particularly given the health concerns as to Defendant Reid that had been raised during trial and the fact that prison transports occur only on Tuesdays and Thursdays. There was no need to involve the DA’s office in that procedural communication, just as there had been no need to involve the attorneys for Pope and Reid months earlier when the District Attorneys and Defendant Lewis’ attorneys met with me in my office with the proposed plea deal.
Third, it has been suggested that the Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC) is investigating the procedural actions in this case. That is true, as I was first advised by them at a conference on September 8, 2014 [Docket #2015-1]. To my knowledge, prior to last week, no allegations of misconduct had been filed by anyone. If I have made any error of law or fact in this or any other case, those allegations are a matter for the Appellate Courts of this State to review once the complete transcripts and briefs have been transmitted.
The DA has filed a written, supposedly confidential, complaint with the JQC, as has been reported in the media. The confidentiality of that process has been breached by others. I stand by my decisions and I will accept any lawful correction of any purported errors.
Lastly, it has been headlined that these allegations could end my career of service as a Superior Court Judge. As my family, friends, colleagues, and Courthouse family had known for months before this trial, I plan to leave office before my term ends, not due to any pressure from anyone, but because I am engaged to be married in early spring 2015. I am happily exchanging the very public life of a Judge for a very private life with my husband and I am looking forward to this next exciting chapter of my life. It has been an honor serving DeKalb County to the best of my ability.
I will give Governor Deal my letter of resignation after closing out professional obligations later this year as planned. I want to ensure that Governor Deal has several months to choose the best possible replacement to serve.
The People of DeKalb County deserve no less.
—-DeKalb County Superior Court Judge C.J. Becker