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Judge hit with ethics complaint for Facebook posts after Atlanta-area spa shootings

Bill Rankin, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on

Published in News & Features

ATLANTA — A Cherokee County judge has been charged with ethics violations for his social media posts after authorities arrested the man accused of killing eight people at three Atlanta-area spas.

Superior Court Judge David Cannon’s posts on Facebook defending a Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office spokesman amount to “willful misconduct in office” or “conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice which brings the judicial office into disrepute,” said the complaint, filed last week before the Georgia Supreme Court.

Lester Tate, an attorney representing Cannon, said Georgia has no prohibition against judges posting comments on social media. He also said the charges brought by the state judicial watchdog agency appear to infringe upon the judge’s free speech rights.

During a March 17 news conference, Capt. Jay Baker said that Robert Aaron Long, the man accused in the spa shootings, was “pretty much fed up and kind of at the end of his rope. Yesterday was a really bad day for him and this is what he did.” The comments were criticized by many as being insensitive.

The next day, Cannon, a judge since 2013, defended Baker on Facebook and posted a transcript of the news conference.

“I believe he was summarizing what he was told by the investigators that interviewed the accused from the accused perspective,” Cannon wrote. “And Jay was not saying from Jay’s perspective that the accused had a bad day. Feel free to disagree, but read the transcript first!”

 

When someone commented on Cannon’s post, saying he thought Baker should not have said what he said, the judge did not disagree.

“As a judge I don’t like them tainting the jury pool about a confession that may or may not be admissible depending on the circumstances,” he wrote. “So I’d rather them just say ‘we caught him.’”

Cannon appeared before the investigative panel of the Judicial Qualifications Commission three days later to explain his social media posts.

Cannon said that when he made the posts, he knew the case had been assigned to another judge, the complaint said. But he acknowledged that in the future it was possible that law enforcement could ask him to sign warrants in the case.

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