Chief Municipal Judge Melvin Johnson has been terminated by the city of Lithonia after learning he was not certified to preside over the city's cases. Johnson, who was removed a few weeks ago, had served in his position with the city for seven years.
Johnson repeatedly failed to complete the annual training for judges as required by state law, according to the Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC).
The JQC notified Johnson in a Jan. 13 letter that it was barring him from his judicial duties because he failed to receive required training in 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2013.
Johnson’s failure to take the training "reflects a status of being chronically deficient in complying,” said Richard Reaves, executive director of the state's Institute of Continuing Judicial Education. "The law says you must take the training to keep your judicial certification. Our records show he (Johnson) didn't do that."
Reaves said Johnson was given several opportunities to take the training, but always fell short. As an example, Johnson attended one course but paid for it with a check that bounced. Another time, he took eight hours of a 12-hour course. He ignored several grace periods as well, Reaves aid.
Johnson disputes that he failed to complete the training for a four-year period. He said he is deficient for one year--2012--because he was ill. He said after he mailed a check for the course, his check was sent back to him and he assumed that he didn't have to take the course.
"The whole thing is a big misunderstanding. I don't think he JQC would let any one go four years without the training," Johnson said. "The board is saying that it sent me notices, but I never received the notices. I wouldn't have ignored them.'
Johnson said he is appealing the decision and hopes to go before the JQC in March.
Meanwhile, the city of Lithonia has launched an investigation into the funds that were paid to Johnson to take the annual.
“It is my understanding that the city paid for the training. We don't know why that didn't happen,” said Lithonia Mayor Deborah Jackson.
Jackson said the city terminated Johnson as soon as it learned he had not taken the required annual courses.
"We took care of it immediately. We can't afford to have the city exposed," said Jackson, who has temporarily hired Associate Judge Latisha Dear and Associate Magistrate Judge Curtis Miller. Jackson said the city is seeking to hire a replacement for Johnson and putting out a request for qualification.
Reaves said because Johnson was not certified, his rulings in 2013 potentially could be voided, if challenged.
Johnson, who is a Liberian American, is not only dealing with problems concerning Lithonia. The Liberian government has indicted Johnson and Ellen Corkrum, another Liberian American, for "economic sabotage." The government says that Johnson, who was working as a legal advisor in Liberia, and Corkrum, who was managing director of the Liberian Airport Authority, stole over $1 million and fled the country. Both are awaiting extradition from the U.S. to Liberia.
Johnson maintains the allegations are false. He said the charges are an attempt by the government to cover up corruption at the airport.