Judge suspended for altercation with a shackled defendant in courthouse hallway

Chief Magistrate Cary Hays III pinning defendant against a wall in a courthouse hallway in December 2020. (Photo courtesy of Channel 2 Action News)

Bill Rankin

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

A Crawford County judge will be suspended 30 days without pay for having a physical altercation with a shackled defendant in a courthouse hallway, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.

Chief Magistrate Cary Hays III will also be given a public reprimand in open court by Superior Court Judge James Sizemore of the Southwestern Judicial District, the Supreme Court ordered.

“The proposed sanction is one of the most significant we have ever imposed, short of removal from office,” the Supreme Court said in an unsigned opinion. ” … It is a grave violation for a judge to use violence against any person appearing before him, except in self-defense or defense of others, which was not the situation here.”

Hays, after being cursed at by a criminal defendant at the close of a hearing, followed the man out into the hallway and assaulted him in December 2020, according to a complaint filed against him by the state’s judicial watchdog agency. At the time, the defendant was handcuffed and shackled at his feet.

In its unanimous opinion, the state Supreme Court signed off on an agreement reached between Hays and the state Judicial Qualifications Commission.

That agreement was approved by the commission’s three-person hearing panel. Voting in favor, Fulton County Judge Robert McBurney and Atlanta lawyer Jamala McFadden said Hays was “someone who has honorably served his country as a soldier and his county as a magistrate judge all without complaint, until now.”

Hays accepted full responsibility for the “relatively egregious” incident, their decision said. But McBurney and McFadden also said the provoking words uttered by the defendant did not justify “a judge getting up out of his seat, traveling from one room to another, grabbing a defendant by the collar and shoving him against the wall.”

Hearing panel member Richard Hyde dissented, noting Hays “assailed a person in custody.”

“For 50 years the mandate of this commission has been to educate judges and protect the public,” Hyde said. “This proposed agreement does neither.”

After the ethics charges were brought, Hays told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he did not injure the defendant.

“The inmate continued to curse me over and over and over and over again,” Hays said. “At some point, I’d just heard enough of it.”


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