In her courtroom in Brunswick, Ga., Judge Amanda F. Williams told lawyers to “sit down and shut up.” She once jailed a defendant for using the words “baby momma.” And she detained offenders “indefinitely” without access to lawyers, state judicial investigators say.
But on Monday, Judge Williams, the chief judge of the Superior Court of the Brunswick Judicial Circuit — a powerful, controversial figure who gained national exposure when the public radio program “This American Life” devoted an hourlong episode to her — announced that she was leaving the bench after 21 years.
Judge Williams, 64, who said she would resign on Jan. 2., faced wide-ranging misconduct accusations. She vowed not to seek another judgeship, and, as a result, those complaints will be dropped, the Georgia Judicial Qualifications Commission said. She could still face criminal charges related to her conduct.
She was first elected in 1990 to the court, which handles cases in five southeast Georgia counties. For more than a decade, she also ran the state’s largest drug court.
She has long been known as an aggressive, combative judge, lawyers say. But in recent years, they say, her behavior grew harsher and more punitive.
In November and December, the judicial commission brought formal complaints against Judge Williams, after receiving multiple complaints from lawyers. The commission accused her of giving special treatment to the relatives of her friends, allowing her personal lawyer to represent clients before her and behaving in a “tyrannical” manner.
According to the commission’s 14-count list of charges against her, she sentenced drug-court defendants to “indefinite” detention “until further order of the court.” In one case, she ordered that a defendant be denied any communication.
“Nobody! Total restriction!” she ordered, according to the complaint. “No mail, no phone calls, no visitors.” The complaint says the defendant, who had a history of mental illness, spent 73 days in solitary confinement and tried to kill herself while in jail.
“Judge Williams was a person you did not cross,” said J. Robert Morgan, a lawyer in Brunswick who argued cases before her. “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.”
Her lawyer, John J. Ossick Jr., declined to comment. Judge Williams did not return phone calls.
But 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.”
In March, “This American Life” broadcast an entire episode about Judge Williams and what it called “possibly the toughest drug court in the country.”