LITHIA SPRINGS, Ga. - Some ugly moments in a March 2022 homeowners association meeting has Douglas County Probate Judge Christina Peterson in more legal hot water.
Peterson already faced complaints from a state regulatory board which last year asked but failed to get her temporarily suspended from office.
Only elected less than two years ago, Peterson must now defend herself against 50 counts of violating the Georgia Code of Judicial Conduct. No one can remember a larger number pending against a sitting Georgia judge.
The most recent allegations involve her comments during that HOA meeting at the Silver Creek Ranch neighborhood in Lithia Springs, organized as a friendly gathering, so the neighbors could get to know the new HOA president.
Instead, Peterson is seen on cell phone video telling the president he should call a special election. She’s currently suing the board, claiming last year’s election was not conducted lawfully.
"I can only go by what our legal says," explained president Derrick Houston.
"I’m legal as well," said Peterson.
She later offered to drop her lawsuit if the special election is held. Those comments did not sit well with others in the meeting.
"You going to follow the law if you come into my courtroom," said Peterson.
"YOU going to follow the law!" one homeowner yelled back.
Christina Peterson was elected in 2020, the first Black probate judge in Douglas County history.
One of the first JQC counts against her dealt with a $70,000 settlement Peterson collected in an earlier lawsuit she and others filed against the neighborhood. The JQC said she failed to share any of the money with her fellow plaintiffs.
"How about you pay attention to that?" challenged a neighbor. "Why you stole $70,000 from your plaintiffs? Give them they money!"
A second homeowner said "if you’re suing, you’re getting money or you’re taking something from this community, I don’t think you should be speaking out like that. Don’t take something from somebody who ain’t got nothing."
"You’re going to continue to not be having anything if you don’t follow the law," replied Peterson.
The JQC accused Peterson of violating the Code of Judicial Conduct in the meeting by "advising (the HOA) that they are getting bad advice from their legal counsel."
Lester Tate is Peterson’s attorney and a former member of the JQC.
"I think the issue with this is that for a judge you don’t give up your right to speak or talk," he said. "And I don’t know that this was a negotiation."
Peterson clearly sounded like she was making an offer.
"Call a special election and I’ll dismiss the lawsuit," she can be heard saying on the video.
"I thought her actions were disruptive, and her comments were totally unprofessional and inappropriate," said HOA president Houston in an email to the FOX 5 I-Team.
Tate said the JQC is adding more counts — not because his client has done anything wrong — but because the original counts were not strong enough to convince the Georgia Supreme Court to immediately suspend Peterson until the case can be tried.
"It sounds like a lot because they keep adding and adding and adding counts because they utterly failed to have her interim suspended last year," he said.
In its order last year, the Supreme Court said "we conclude that there is not at this time sufficient evidence to demonstrate that Judge Peterson poses ‘the substantial threat of serious harm to the public or to the administration of justice…’"
The Douglas County Sheriff's Office was livid last year when Judge Peterson allowed civilians to walk into an unguarded courthouse on a Saturday, even though they say she was specifically told she could not do that.
Peterson is already facing charges she violated judicial standards by letting the public into an unsecured courthouse over the objections of the sheriff’s office. She also made the controversial decision to order a woman jailed for contempt for trying to change her marriage license to reflect the true name of her father, a man she discovered years after her wedding.
Peterson accused her of lying and found her guilty of contempt in a hearing where the woman was not told she might need legal counsel.
Many of the other counts involve allegations of dysfunction in her office and sometimes risqué or controversial social media posts, some made before she was elected to office.
The Supreme Court declined to dismiss any of the 50 counts. No trial date has been set.
"If they had something serious to be removed from the bench, one count was sufficient to do that," said defense attorney Tate.
"It’s just bizarre to me that they want to keep adding to it, but it’s also abundantly clear to me that the reason they do is because they feel like they don’t have enough to prevail."
Peterson’s HOA scheduled its annual election for next month, perhaps making moot the lawsuit and demands that has her facing more charges.