(SAVANNAH) For the first time since legal trouble started brewing in Chatham County Recorder’s Court, Chief Judge Tammy Stokes is speaking out about an investigation conducted for the City of Savannah, a report that paints a dysfunctional picture of that court. The trouble has prompted intervention by two higher courts, including the Supreme Court of Georgia, who restored Judge Stokes administrative powers after those duties were stripped by Chatham County Superior Court in early August. The Supreme court restored those powers a week later.
Those legal maneuvers came on the heels after of Judge Stokes barring the release of that 133 page city report. Stokes says that report is legally her responsibility to produce because it centers on two human resources complaints from Recorder’s Court employees, including fellow Judge Claire Williams, But those complaints target Court clerk Sandra Barnes, not Judge Stokes. We asked Stokes for reaction to the city’s report, which includes 47 witnesses, but only 4 sworn statements. “The city’s report ended up becoming a fishing expedition, um, it went everywhere, into things that would have no bearing on the very narrow points that were being investigated, and in fact, easily, 90-percent of the folks that were interviewed had no direct knowledge of the allegations of those very narrow points.” Stokes said.
That city investigation is supposed to look into claims of misconduct by the recorder’s court clerk, but it seems to focus on Judge Stokes. It’s filled with with claims of favoritism based on race, drinking on the clock, unnecessary use of substitutes, and reports of a feud between she and Judge Williams. Stokes reacts to that claim. ” I wouldn’t describe anything I’ve ever been in as a feud…and that’s one of those words that I tell ya’, just jumped out at me because it’s such a loaded word.” said Stokes. The chief judge says there were a lot of surprises when she read the city’s report, including claims she drinks alcohol on her lunch breaks. “That is one of those things that I find absurd. and again, not who I am. I try to be professional and carry myself a certain way. It’s just, it;s just ridiculous.” Stokes said.
The city report also contains a lot of talk about favoritism among recorder’s court employees based on race. The the vast majority of those workers are African American, but Stokes says she is not trying to make sure it stays that way. “There’s no need to do that and again, that’s not who I am. I’m obviously a black woman and i am proud of that, but I’m also a very inclusive woman, a very inclusive-thinking woman.” said Stokes, adding, “That’s another one of those mis-characterizations.. Where that came from i don’t know.” Stokes says she knows there are those among her critics who have doubts about her ability to be objective in her final report, but she says people should read it first, then decide, but at the end of the day, she is doing her duty fairly and impartially. “What I’m doing is finalizing the report that, that was initiated by the city, wrongly initiated by the city, and we’ll deal with what is and I will issue my findings and my conclusions.” Stokes said. She is set to release that final report into the human resources complaints in front of the Chatham County Courthouse, Friday, September 30, 2016 at 11:00a.m.