ALPHARETTA, Ga. — A retired Alpharetta judge, who is under an ethics investigation by the city, represented a former city prosecutor in a 2015 civil case, according to court documents.
The records show that Barry Zimmerman, who served as the chief judge of the Alpharetta Municipal Court, represented Fran Shoenthal McQueen in the Court of Appeals of Georgia in a 2015 case involving distribution of her late husband’s pension. At the time, McQueen was serving as city solicitor for Alpharetta and Milton.
Zimmerman presided over thousands of cases McQueen was prosecuting in the municipal court.
Alpharetta Assistant City Administrator James Drinkard said Zimmerman presided over all cases and McQueen prosecuted all cases in the municipal court unless one of the two was out sick, on vacation or had recused themselves from a specific case.
In fiscal year 2022 alone, the municipal court processed 9,376 cases. The municipal court generally oversees traffic and city ordinance violations, though according to its website, the court also handles violations of “certain state laws.”
Zimmerman notified the city June 9 that he intended to retire. The next day, the state Judicial Qualifications Commission filed a report with the Georgia Supreme Court stating it found reasonable cause to believe Zimmerman had been “improperly involved” in several cases he presided over in the city court.
The filing does not provide details on any specific cases, nor does it clarify whether Zimmerman’s involvement with McQueen was a subject of the investigation. It does state Zimmerman may have violated ethics rules on refraining from “financial business dealings with lawyers, litigants and others that tend to reflect adversely on the impartiality, interfere with the proper performance of their judicial duties or exploit their judicial positions.”
The filing states that the Judicial Qualifications Commission will not file formal charges against Zimmerman so long as he does not seek any other judicial position. The state agency keeps investigation results confidential until charges are filed. In cases like Zimmerman’s, in which formal charges are not filed at all, investigation results are generally kept confidential.
The agency’s rules do allow it to release disciplinary records if its investigative panel determine the disclosure to be “in the interest of justice and to protect the public,” but it has not released further information on Zimmerman’s case.
The Alpharetta City Council announced June 27 that the city would launch its own investigation into Zimmerman’s conduct in an attempt to uncover what the Judicial Qualification Commission’s probe found.
Alpharetta’s resolution states that a tablet the city had issued Zimmerman “appeared to have been factory reset” before he returned it, wiping all of its data. The city announced July 11 that its investigation would be led by Randy Rich, an Atlanta lawyer and judge.
Drinkard said the city aims for the probe to wrap after 30 days, but the timeline is not set in stone. He also said the city plans to begin a search for a new chief judge in August. Until then, two “backup judges” have been handling municipal court cases.
Separately, Shoenthal, 63, has threatened to sue the cities of Alpharetta and Milton over allegations that she was passed over to fill the position of solicitor because of her age and race.
In April, Kelsie Mattox was sworn into office following an intergovernmental agreement between both cities to further strengthen their bond. Alpharetta and Milton already share court facilities and a municipal clerk.
Since filing a demand letter on May 5, the cities have denied any wrongdoing but offered to pay McQueen $25,000 to settle all claims. However, on July 12, Shoenthal’s attorney filed a response, declining the offer.
Instead, Shoenthal is now asking for 25 months of lost back pay, the amount of time left before she turns 65, at the rate of $8,000 per month and $10,000 in attorney’s fees, as well as all the other terms cited in the May 5 letter to Alpharetta and Milton.
The cities had not yet responded as of press time on July 26.