(SAVANNAH) The chief judge of Chatham County’s Recorder’s Court delivered on her promise to release her investigation into human resources complaints from two people working in Recorder’s Court. The “Stokes Report” is every bit as thick as the 133 page investigation issued by the city of Savannah last month, but it comes to a much different conclusion about the complaints lodged by fellow judge Claire Williams and another employee in the clerk’s office, who claims a hostile work environment after being reinstated following termination. The city’s report led to legal filings that stripped Stokes of administrative authority and the eventual termination of two employees, including one who is not named in either complaint. A week later the Supreme Court of Georgia restored those powers to Stokes, but her attorney says the terminated employees have not returned to work, even though Judge Stokes ordered them reinstated. Stokes does more than take exception to the city’s report, she takes direct aim, with section 2 of the report titled, ” Flaws, Improper Methodology, and Incompleteness of City of Savannah’s Investigation & Report”. Stokes says her effort is built on a foundation of objectivity. ” I’ve done my best to put aside any personal bias, but I’ll let you be the judge of that when you read the report.” said Stokes.
In the report released today, Stokes probe says Judge Williams did more than just file a grievance against court clerk Sandra Barnes. Stokes report includes a copy of an email from Judge Williams to the city’s investigator. That correspondence offers a list of potential witnesses, including former employees of the recorder’s court who never worked with Barnes, as well as a myriad of other complaints not related to the alleged “disrespect” Barnes reportedly showed in open court towards Williams. Judge Williams offered WSAV a response via email late Friday afternoon. “I appreciate the privilege that the citizens of Chatham County and Savannah have given me to serve as a Recorders Court Judge these past 12 years. I regret that this matter has taken the attention away from the real issue which is the proper running of a Court. Recorders Court is an essential part of our communities’ judicial system. I look forward to when the issues of the Court can no longer be in the headlines and the Court can be allowed to function as it did for over 50 years as the work horse of our judicial system. The Court was rarely even noticed because its duties were quietly performed by experienced staff that ran the Court like a well-oiled machine. In regard to Chief Judge Stokes’ report, these matters have already been thoroughly investigated over a six- month period by a completely independent human resource expert. The Stokes report came to a completely different conclusion than the Maury Bowen report. The Stokes report solely benefited Judge Stokes and her former senior staff members. Additionally, unlike the Bowen report where over 47 individuals were independently interviewed and significant documentation was reviewed, the Stokes report did not even consult me. It is important to note that all individuals whose reports were used against me in the Stokes investigation including Stokes herself were interviewed by Ms. Bowen. The Stokes report presents nothing new. It just reaches conclusions that do not fairly represent the total situation and are completely one-sided. I can only hope that Chief Judge Stokes will now focus her attention on the needs of the Court and not waste any more time on these matters which have been thoroughly investigated. It is vitally important to our community and our judiciary that all the Judges and the staff attention be concentrated on our responsibilities to the citizens of our community.” said Williams.
As a result of the city report, Barnes and another employee were terminated. Stokes attorney, Charles “Bo” Bowen, says city attorney, Brooks Stillwell, needs to remedy that situation. “I am calling on Brooks Stillwell to immediately cease his interference with that process and return these two ladies to work and to issue them both a public apology. I am calling on Superior Court to immediately withdraw their writ of prohibition. I’m calling on the new city manager to root out this corruption from the source.” said Bowen. Judge Stokes report concludes the HR complaints by Williams and the other employee are not sustained by the evidence, but she says she finds evidence that points to a clear effort to undermine recorder’s court. “Secret meetings, one-sided accusations, and clandestine maneuverings must stop now…what we need is transparency and professionalism.” Stokes said. The report by the Chief Judge does not erase the legal actions already in motion, including the Chatham County Superior Court order taking away Stokes administrative authority in Recorder’s Court. While the state supreme court restored those powers, that order is only in effect until the justices hear the appeal. Stokes attorney says he believes this revolves around the effort to create a separate municipal court in Savannah,