ATLANTA— A Southwest Georgia judge was reprimanded by the state’s judicial watchdog agency after he pleaded guilty to reckless driving.
The Judicial Qualifications Commission said Thursday it issued a private reprimand to Southwestern Judicial Circuit Chief Superior Court Judge Rucker Smith.
Asked to comment by The Albany Herald, Smith sent a fax stating, “Please direct any questions to my attorney.” He did not immediately respond to a request for his attorney’s name.
Smith was pulled over in May 2011 for driving 63 mph in a 45 mph zone. An officer charged him with having an open container, driving under the influence and speeding.
Smith later pleaded guilty to the reduced charge of reckless driving in the city of Leslie.
The commission noted in a report that Smith complied with all of its requests and “accepted responsibility for his actions.”
The agency said the reprimand will be reported to the Georgia Supreme Court, but its content will remain private.
In January, Smith sentenced a confessed drunken driver to prison to serve at least three years of 15 maximum for killing 22-year-old Angela Dunford in January 2007.
Roger Hamilton, 40, of Ashboro, N.C., pleaded guilty in December to drunken driving and vehicular homicide, said Chief Assistant District Attorney Lewis Lamb. He asked the judge to sentence Hamilton to serve 10 years.
Smith’s sentence outraged Dunford’s family. Although the family could not be reached Thursday, Cynthia C. Hagain of Mothers Against Drunk Driving victims services said the organization has been following the case.
It has made inquiries into Smith’s sentencing record involving drunken drivers, including Hamilton’s case.
The case against Hamilton was strong, Lamb said. He added Hamilton drank enough to register a .138 on the breath test three and a half hours after the crash on Lee County’s Palmyra Road.
A reading of .08 is considered over the legal limit.
The crash threw Dunford from the car and killed her, Lamb said, leaving her 23-month-old son Trey motherless. Hamilton was injured but recovered.
According to members of Dunford’s family, Hamilton posted information on social media websites about his continued drinking, Lamb said.
“He showed a total lack of remorse,” Lamb said. “I have never seen a man whose post-collision conduct was so bad.”
Armed with those posts, Dunford’s family urged Lamb to reopen the case after three years had passed. Lamb said he was uncertain why the case was not prosecuted under previous District Attorney Cecilia Cooper.
The prosecution required Hamilton to be extradited from North Carolina. Lamb’s efforts led to a Georgia governor’s warrant sent to the North Carolina governor’s office asking for Hamilton’s custody.
“Hamilton is the most irresponsible man,” Lamb said. “He had a prior DUI in Minnesota. He posted a picture of the wreck that killed Dunford on the web with the caption ‘It just had to be a Ford LOL.’”