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Alpharetta, Milton judge now under city investigation

ALPHARETTA, Ga. — The City of Alpharetta is launching an investigation into the ethics of Barry Zimmerman, the retiring chief judge of Alpharetta Municipal Court and former chief judge of the Milton Municipal Court.

Alpharetta’s examination aims to uncover the results of a previous investigation into Zimmerman’s conduct by the Georgia Judicial Qualifications Commission, which investigates and prosecutes allegations of judicial misconduct.

On June 9, Zimmerman announced in a letter to Alpharetta Mayor Jim Gilvin that he would retire effective July 1 “due to personal reasons.” The next day, the Judicial Qualifications Commission filed a report with the Supreme Court of Georgia stating it found reasonable cause to believe Zimmerman had been “improperly involved” in several of his cases on the city court, including involving himself in cases that he should have recused himself from.

The report states that the commission will not bring formal charges against Zimmerman provided that he retires from his position in Alpharetta and does not seek any judicial office in the future.

Alpharetta City Attorney Molly Esswein said the city was not aware of the state agency’s investigation until the day the report was filed. 

Judicial Qualifications Commission Director Chuck Boring said the commission does not publicly release information on its investigations until formal charges are filed. In cases like Zimmerman’s, in which a consent agreement is reached and charges are not filed at all, only the report filed with the Georgia Supreme Court is released to the public.

City officials say they have no information on the case against Zimmerman beyond that report, but they plan to learn more about what prompted the investigation and what evidence it turned up. Zimmerman served his final session as a judge on June 23, though he is still technically contracted with the city until July 1.

Barry Zimmerman

Alpharetta Municipal Court Chief Judge Barry Zimmerman announced his retirement June 9, a move that put an end to an ethics investigation regarding his conduct.

The resolution authorizing the investigation, which the City Council unanimously approved June 27, states that a city-issued tablet Zimmerman was given “appeared to have been factory reset” when he returned it to the city. The resolution tasks City Administrator Bob Regus to hire a third-party entity to investigate Zimmerman’s case and use “all available and lawful means” to recover any data wiped from the tablet.

“This is an action on your City Council to make sure that the integrity of our judicial branch of government in Alpharetta is functioning at the highest ethical standards,” Councilman Doug DeRito said. “I personally hope any findings of this investigation highlight the high integrity of our judicial branch… anything less than that would be extremely disturbing to me as an elected official and as a resident of this city.”

Zimmerman has a long judicial history in Fulton County, having served on the municipal courts of Roswell, Milton and Alpharetta, as well as the Fulton County Magistrate Court. He was appointed chief judge of the Alpharetta Municipal Court in 2014, after having served as Milton’s chief judge.

City of Milton spokesperson Greg Botelho said that after leaving as Milton’s chief judge, Zimmerman continued to fill in on the court if another judge was not available. Botelho said the only day Zimmerman presided in the Milton Municipal Court this year was on March 21. City of Roswell spokesperson Julie Brechbill said Zimmerman had also filled in on Roswell’s court in the past but had not worked there in at least 15 years.

Reach Jake Drukman at 770-847-8334. Follow him on Twitter @DrukmanJake.