ATLANTA — A county magistrate judge from middle Georgia is facing possible expulsion from the bench because of an incident captured on security video showing him he physically attacking a defendant.
Channel 2 investigative reporter Richard Belcher used the state open records law to get the video from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation which investigated the Dec. 2018 incident in Roberta, the county seat of Crawford County.
The DA for that part of the state – a little west of Macon – has decided not to pursue criminal charges against Judge Cary Hays, but the state’s judicial watchdog – the Judicial Qualifications Commission – has filed formal charges against Hays.
The security camera video astonished Marietta attorney Robert Ingram, who served eight years on the JQC and was chairman for two years.
“This kind of conduct may occur in China and Russia, but I’ve never heard of it occurring in Georgia,” he told Belcher. “There’s a video, and when you have a video that documents what occurred, I mean there’s no question it’s a violation of the code of judicial conduct.”
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Ingram said the case is a first for him.
“In almost 40 years, I have never seen or heard of a judge leaving the bench to physically engage a litigant or an inmate,” Ingram said.
But that’s what happened when inmate Brian Keith Davis went before Hays.
It was a first appearance hearing, and bond was an issue for Davis who was facing a felony drug charge and two lesser charges.
According to the GBI investigation obtained by Channel 2, Davis wanted to be released on his own recognizance, but the judge set his bond at $8,500.
Witnesses told the GBI Davis launched into a tirade of insults.
Radio dispatcher Rachel Hollingshed told the GBI the judge barked at the handcuffed inmate.
“What did you say, boy? Come back here and say it again.” Hollingshed said Hays told Davis.
“I looked... and the judge had inmate Davis’ faced pressed against the outside of the window,” Hollingshed told the GBI.
The judge himself told the GBI that “he put his hand on Davis’s shoulder to turn Davis around.”
At that point, Davis told Hays, “If you touch me one more time, I’m going to beat your (expletive).”
Davis also told Hays “this is on video,” and Hays replied “I hope it is.”
Ingram told Belcher that judges have to keep their cool when someone in court is abusive.
“It’s easy to understand how you can get mad, but you can’t allow yourself to leave the bench or engage in that kind of exchange,” Ingram said.
Ingram said incidents like this damage the reputation of the entire judicial system, but he is grateful for one thing.
“If this had a racial component to it, we would be covered up right now with national media, and this would be all over every network and, and it would really be blown up,” Ingram said.
Hays declined comment when Belcher called his office.
The Judicial Qualifications Commission has filed public charges against Judge Hays, and they can be found on the website of the Georgia Supreme Court.
JQC director Chuck Boring declined to elaborate. It’s not clear whether the judge intends to contest the charges.
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