A Marietta attorney wrote an ethics complaint to the Georgia Supreme Court concerning a Forsyth County Chief Superior Court Judge Jeffrey S. Bagley and the judiciary, claiming the court has not made “reasonable accommodations for lawyers” during the COVID-19 judicial emergency.
Attorney David West wrote a letter July 7 addressed to the Georgia Supreme Court justices and copied the Judicial Qualifications Commission, which investigates complaints against Georgia judges. Since then, West said the commission has reached out for more information and documentation regarding the complaint.
An attempt to reach the commission’s deputy director, Courtney Veal, was unsuccessful Friday, Oct. 2.
West said he was retained as an attorney on a case and filed a motion for discovery in January. Three months later, West’s office mailed a letter to the district attorney’s office requesting discovery be mailed to their office. He claimed his office offered “to provide any type of digital storage necessary to send such evidence electronically or to remit payment for any compensation necessary,” according to his letter.
West claimed he was told that the discovery materials would not be mailed and that someone from his office would need to review and copy materials in the district attorney’s office, according to his letter.
West then filed an emergency motion regarding the discovery materials, and Bagley denied the motion following a video hearing.
“When I heard that it had been denied, I was simply dumbfounded,” West told The Times Friday.
West said he believes that the “unjust ruling by the court and the procedures now being permitted to exist in the Bell-Forsyth Judicial Circuit due to this ruling” are conflicting with the Georgia Supreme Court’s judicial emergency order. He said Friday he believes it has shown a “disregard for the safety of everyone, especially people like myself, who have a medical condition.”
West said his doctor has advised him to shelter in place and avoid public spaces whenever possible.
On Monday, Bagley’s office told Forsyth County News he could not comment on any pending litigation.
Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold D. Melton ordered in the Sept. 10 extension of the judicial emergency that all courts “should continue to use and increase the use of technology to conduct remote judicial proceedings as a safer alternative to in-person proceedings, unless required by law to be in person” or if it is not practicable for some reason to do so remotely.
“Furthermore, it is my [belief] that this rises to the level of a constitutional deprivation of rights for all other attorneys and criminal defendants similarly situated so as to make attorneys choose between violating the shelter-in-place order of their physicians and the state or potentially harming their client’s right to effective representation,” according to West’s letter.
West’s letter asks the court to look into Forsyth’s policy to “make reasonable accommodations to send discovery to attorneys who are medically unable to appear under the judicial emergency order.”
West said he does not want the judge to get in trouble but to change the policies.
Kelly Whitmire contributed to this report.