ALPHARETTA, Ga. — The Alpharetta City Council has released a report on its investigation into the ethics of retired City Judge Barry Zimmerman, who resigned earlier this year amid allegations of “improper involvement” in several local cases.
A four-page redacted report by Gwinnett County Superior Court Judge Randolph G. Rich, who was tasked with investigating the allegations made by the Georgia Supreme Court’s State Judicial Qualification Commission, was released Monday, Sept. 19.
Rich’s investigation looked into whether Zimmerman was “improperly involved” in several cases he handled in city court, whether any other parties were involved in the alleged wrongdoing, and whether there was any criminal activity. Rich’s report appears to conclude that the allegations made by the Judicial Qualifications Commission are correct.
The investigative report cites six cases from Alpharetta Municipal Court in which Zimmerman allegedly represented defendants by using another attorney’s name and signature as a “straw man” defense attorney to make statements to another Alpharetta judge.
The alleged scheme reportedly involved attorney Keith F. Brandon, who shared office space with Zimmerman’s and was a tenant, and former City Attorney Fran Shontal McQueen.
“In lieu of transferring the case from Alpharetta Municipal Court to Fulton County State Court, Judge Zimmerman will negotiate with attorney Fran McQueen,” the report said.
The lawsuits brought against Brandon, allegedly by Zimmerman, were made through “Pleads in Absenteeism,” which do not require the defendant or his attorney to be present in court.
Records show Zimmerman represented McQueen in the Georgia Court of Appeals in a 2015 case over the distribution of her late husband’s pension. At the time, McQueen served as city attorney for Alpharetta and Milton.
Zimmerman presided over thousands of cases that McQueen handled in municipal court.
Rich said in the report that Zimmerman is suspected of using the name Keith F. Brandon as far back as 2008 to represent defendants in Alpharetta Municipal Court.
The report notes that Zimmerman’s name does not appear in any of the court records in the six suspected cases, but preliminary analysis of the handwriting on the note, reportedly signed by Zimmerman, may match many of the signatures of “Keith F. Brandon” found in court documents.
Rich said he tried to contact the two defendants allegedly represented by Zimmerman at the time, but only received a text message from one saying “he hired Judge Zimmerman as his defense attorney in the City of Alpharetta case,” but he didn’t know what he was a judge.
The investigation also found that the city is unlikely to be able to recover data deleted from an iPad tablet assigned to Zimmerman while he was employed by the city.
Rich said that as the owner of the device, the city could file a complaint against Apple Inc. demanding that the data be restored, but that will likely be challenged because Zimmerman allegedly stored personal and confidential information from his private law practice on the device.
“I looked into whether it was possible to retrieve the information that was previously on the iPad and decided it would likely be an expensive and lengthy legal battle,” Rich said.
There may be a section in Rich’s investigation dealing with potential criminal activity, but the entire section has been redacted from the report.
In an email to Appen Media, Alpharetta City Administrator Chris Lagerblum said the passage was redacted because of Section 50-18-72(a)(42) of the Georgia Open Records Law, which refers to “Confidential Attorney Work Product.”
However, Lagerbloom said he intends to turn the report over to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation for an independent review of the case.
Rich’s report concludes by saying that the city could do a full investigation into how widespread Zimmerman’s alleged negligence is, suggesting that the city could search court records for “Pleases in Absenteeism,” specifically Brandon’s.
An unredacted copy of Rich’s report was provided to council members at Monday night’s meeting.
Lagerbloom said city officials will have to decide how to proceed with the investigation at a future meeting.
There was no voting or discussion of this issue at the meeting.
Neither Zimmerman nor Brandon could be reached for comment on the matter at press time.