Judge Amanda F. Williams, of Brunswick, GA, possibly the toughest drug court judge in America, has announced she will step down from the bench after 21 years on Jan. 2, 2012 in the wake of a complaint filed by the Georgia Judicial Qualifications Commission.
Williams’ achieved national notoriety in March 2011 when she became the focus of an hour-long program by the American Public Radio show, This American Life, which questioned Williams’ punitive approach to drug offenders.
The radio show featured one case in which Williams sentenced a drug offender who had experienced his first relapse to 17 days in detention and added a year and a half to his time in the drug court program. A spokesperson for National Association for Drug Court Professionals said the NADCP recommends no jail time at all for a first relapse.
In recent months, the Georgia judicial commission said it received several complaints from lawyers against Williams, who was the chief judge of the Superior Court of the Brunswick Judicial Circuit.
The commission finally brought a formal complaint against Williams on December 11, 2011, charging Williams violated judicial ethics when she gave special treatment to relatives of friends, allowed her relatives and her personal attorney to appear before her without recusing herself, and generally behaved in a “tyrannical” manner.
Perhaps the most controversial complaint facing Williams involved a girl who entered her drug court program in 2005 after pleading guilty to forging two of her parents’ checks.
In 2008, Lindsey Dills violated her “drug court contract.” Williams initially sentenced Dills to 28 days in jail but later modified her order to indefinite detention with no contact from anyone except her drug court counselor. The commission states that Dills remained in solitary confinement for 73 days, during which time she attempted suicide. Although Dills’ suicide attempt occurred on Dec. 9, 2008, the commission states that Dills was not transferred to an in-patient medical facility until Dec. 22, 2008.
The case raises the question? Why did it take so long to address what the commission refers to as Williams’ tyrannical behavior? Why did it take a radio show to shine a spotlight on Williams’ antics? Where were the court staff and the attorneys who dealt with Williams every day? It appears to be a case of the silence of the lambs - people were afraid of what might happen to them if they complained.
The New York Times quotes one attorney as stating: “Judge Williams was a person you did not cross. She ruled by fear and intimidation. I’ve been in front of 50 judges in 34 years and I’ve never seen anything like her.”
Because Williams, 64, vowed not to seek another judgeship, the judicial commission said the complaints against her will be dropped. However, she could still face criminal charges related to her conduct.
In an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in April, she defended her behavior. “I didn’t just decide I was going to be mean to these people,” she said. “These people aren’t sitting in jail forever and ever and ever and ever. I’m fair. I’m consistent. I do care.”