A fight has broken out between the judges in the Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit on who will become the new chief after the retirement of Chief Judge Jon ‘Bo’ Wood. As he was exiting, he issued an order naming Judge Kristina Cook Graham as the next chief judge of the circuit court even though he promised to keep out of the matter according to the AJC. Judges Brian House and Ralph Van Pelt held a meeting last Monday, which Judge Graham was not a participant, to elect a new chief judge. Judges House and Van Pelt both chose Van Pelt as chief but said another vote would be held once Governor Nathan Deal appointed a successor for Judge Wood’s seat.
The Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit has not been without controversy. Judge Graham was reprimanded by the Judicial Qualifications Commission back in 2010 due to her behavior. Controversy surrounds Judge Graham again with accusations being made that Graham actually lives in a townhouse in Chattanooga rather than in the district she is appointed to serve.
Judge Van Pelt wrote to Judge Graham’s father, Summerville attorney Bobby Lee Cook, concerning messages he had received from third-parties threatening a “blood bath” if he doesn’t agree to Judge Graham’s ascension to chief judge. Both Judges House and Van Pelt have recused themselves of cases being tried by Cook or any lawyers from his firm.
Cook penned a 10-page response to Judge Van Pelt’s accusation:
In Cook’s 10-page letter to Van Pelt, Cook called the judge incompetent, insulting, inept, a “snitch,” callous and rude. Cook wrote that Van Pelt opposed his daughter becoming chief judge because he “cannot countenance a strong woman.” Cook said Van Pelt’s writings about her were filled with “false assertions,” and he mocked the judge for reportedly traveling with armed guards; “people were laughing at you.”
Cook warned Van Pelt that he intends to “proceed in a manner to get your attention.”
He also reminded Van Pelt that he had recommended that former Gov. Zell Miller appoint Van Pelt to the bench. “That was my mistake for which I will be eternally sorry,” Cook wrote.
Cook also said that there is no threat to Judge Van Pelt and that the term “blood bath” referred to political division in the circuit that dates back 60 years. He also states that the townhouse is used by Judge Graham’s doctor husband during his on-call stints and that Graham is a citizen taxpayer in Chattooga County.
Judge Van Pelt said he has been informally speaking with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation concerning Judge Graham’s behavior since her reprimand in 2010.
“Now that you or aware of this and knowing you, it will be impossible for us to be in the same room together,” Van Pelt wrote.
We will see who assumes the chief position and if there are any movements in the Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit once Governor Deal makes his announcement on Judge Wood’s replacement.