Sumter County state court judge resigns to end ethics probe
12:17 pm, November 30th, 2012
A Sumter County state court judge resigned from his judicial post late Thursday to end an ethics investigation by the state Judicial Qualifications Commission.
Judge Russ Barnes, 48, an Americus attorney who also served part-time as the county’s sole state court judge, resigned after the JQC opened an inquiry focusing on whether Barnes had mismanaged or misappropriated funds he held in a fiduciary capacity, according to a public report closing the case that the JQC filed today with the Supreme Court of Georgia.
The JQC also was investigating whether the judge had violated the state’s judicial ethics canons by engaging in conduct that brought his judicial office into disrepute or undermined public confidence in the judiciary, according to the report.
Barnes signed a consent order in which he agreed that he will not seek, request or accept elected or appointed judicial office (including a senior judge post) in the future.
Barnes’ resignation is effective immediately. In a handwritten resignation letter that Gov. Nathan Deal accepted late Thursday, Barnes gave no reason for his resignation, stating only, “I have enjoyed my service … but must resign my position.”
Barnes earned his law degree from Mercer University in 1990. He could not be reached for comment.
JQC director Jeffrey Davis could not be reached for comment.
Barnes stepped down from the bench just three weeks after his wife reported him missing on Nov. 8 and he failed to report for court that morning. The judge had left home the previous night about 10 p.m., telling his wife he was going to his office, according to WALB News. His disappearance prompted a ground and air search by the Sumter County Sheriff’s Department, Americus police, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the Georgia State Patrol, according to reports in the Americus Times-Recorder.
After a day-long search, Americus police spotted Barnes driving his black Suburban in the parking lot of a local Wal-Mart store and stopped him, according to the Times-Recorder. Eric Bryant, a colonel with the Sumter County Sheriff’s Department, told the newspaper that law enforcement authorities “were concerned about his [Barnes’] state of mind. … It was obvious he needed to speak with someone.”
Sumter Sheriff Pete Smith told WALB News that the judge “was having some very tough financial times right now.”
The judge was taken to Phoebe Sumter Medical Center for a mental health assessment and subsequently transported to the Albany Crisis Center, Bryant told the Times-Recorder.
Barnes is the sixth Georgia judge to resign this year to end a judicial ethics investigation and Camden County Chief Magistrate Judge Shirley Wise is scheduled to face a JQC ethics tribunal by the JQC on December 17.