A North Georgia judge is being investigated for pulling out a handgun during a hearing last week as a woman testified about being an assault victim.
Lumpkin County Superior Court Judge David E. Barrett pulled out his pistol Wednesday not in anger, but out of frustration and to make "a poor rhetorical point," District Attorney Jeff Langley said Saturday.
Langley, who was in the courtroom when it happened, said the Judicial Qualifications Commission has launched an investigation of the judge.
"It was totally inappropriate conduct for a courtroom," Langley said. The district attorney said he approached the bench after Barrett pulled out his gun and told the judge to put his pistol away. The judge did so and the hearing continued, Langley said.
Barrett, chief judge of the Enotah Judicial Circuit, did not immediately respond to emails or to phone calls left at his office Saturday. Under Georgia law, judges are allowed to carry a concealed weapon on the bench, but it is a crime to point a pistol at another person when there is no justification for doing so.
Jeff Davis, director of the Judicial Qualifications Commission, said Saturday he could neither confirm nor deny whether the judicial watchdog agency was investigating.
The bizarre conduct occurred Wednesday during a bond hearing and a request for a temporary protective order against Scott Sugarman, a former Hall County sheriff's deputy who was recently arrested on a number of charges, including rape and aggravated assault with a handgun.
Sugarman has pleaded not guilty.
The woman who filed the charges against Sugarman was on the witness stand and had testified Sugarman had abused her and, on one occasion, had put a gun to her head. During the latter part of her testimony, the woman was not being cooperative, Langley said.
Barrett told the woman she was "killing her case," then pulled out his gun and, feigning to offer it to her, said, "You might as well shoot your lawyer," Langley said.
At that point, Langley said, he approached the bench and told the judge to put the gun away.
The woman's lawyer, Andrea Conarro of Dahlonega, Saturday described the scene, with Barrett sweeping the pistol across the courtroom, "as one of those slow motion kind of events."
"Later, as it sunk in, I was upset, and I felt like a tragedy had been created," she said, adding that by "tragedy" she meant what could happen to Barrett because of what he did.
Both Conarro and Langley said the woman, whose name is being withheld because The Atlanta Journal-Constitution does not disclose the names of victims of alleged sexual assault, did not appear to be traumatized.
"My client thought it was a test, that he was trying to see how she would respond, like it was a credibility determination," Conarro said.