Loans – State commission accuses Coomer of more than two dozen violations
By JAMES SWIFT
The Georgia Judicial Qualifications Commission (GJQC) filed 26 charges against Georgia Court of Appeals Judge Christian Coomer last week, alleging the former Cartersville-based attorney failed to “act in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity of the judiciary” and “respect and comply with the law.”
Before being appointed to the Georgia Court of Appeals in 2018, Coomer served as the District 14 State House Representative for almost eight years.
The GJQC also alleges that Coomer repeatedly violated the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct, violated campaign finance laws and made “misrepresentations and omissions on other financial documents, including those governed by federal law.”
The bulk of the alleged violations stem from Coomer’s relationship with a former client, Bartow County resident James Filhart.
Filhart filed a lawsuit against Coomer last March, accusing him of fraud and malpractice. That suit was settled out of court later that summer.
Filhart’s suit alleged that Coomer convinced him to list him as the sole beneficiary of a transfer on death account agreement — with Coomer naming himself as the executor and trustee of Filhart’s will in May 2017. The GJQC alleges that in an updated will a year later, Coomer gave himself the ability to distribute the remainder of Filhart’s estate to himself and three charities — albeit, in shares that could only be determined by Coomer.
“Thus, Coomer was given complete power and authority to give most, if not all, of the remainder to himself and little, or none, of the remainder to the charities,” the GJQC charges read.
From there, the GJQC alleges that Coomer drafted an irrevocable living trust for Filhart, which gave him the ability to direct funds from that trust to himself.
The commission said Coomer also drafted a general power of attorney document in September 2018, which gave his spouse — Heidi Coomer — the ability to obtain Filhart’s financial information.
“It required only a declaration by Heidi Coomer to establish that Filhart had become physically disabled, mentally incompetent or otherwise incapacitated,” the GJQC states.
The commission also alleges that Coomer borrowed hundreds of thousands of dollars from Filhart through his company CAC Holdings, LLC.
That includes an unsecured loan — totaling $80,000 — that was deposited into a CAC Holdings, LLC bank account on Dec. 7, 2017.
“The promissory note listed only Filhart’s own home as security for the loan,” the charges read. “Coomer did not execute a security deed evidencing this indebtedness, nor was a security deed filed referencing this indebtedness.”
The GJQC indicates Coomer borrowed $159,000 more from Filhart via CAC Holdings, LLC on March 8, 2018 — the very same day he paid off the original Filhart loan from December 2017.
That loan was also unsecured.
“The promissory note provided for a 30-year term with an annual percentage rate of 3.3%, which interest rate was below the average interest rate at that time for a personal unsecured 30-year fixed rate loan,” the commission states. “Filhart would have been approximately 106 years old when this loan matured.”
That loan, however, wasn’t deposited into the CAC Holdings, LLC account, but Coomer’s own personal account. That same day, Coomer wrote a check in the amount of $152,725.71, which the GJQC alleges was used to pay off the entire outstanding mortgage of his own home.
Coomer then borrowed another $130,000 from Filhart on Sept. 8, 2018. Once again, the loan was unsecured and listed CAC Holdings, LLC as the borrower.
“On Sept. 21, 2018, Coomer moved the $130,000 from the CAC Holdings, LLC account to his personal UBS investment account,” the charges read.
In a March 5, 2019, email, Filhart alleged that Coomer asked to borrow another $220,000 from him in October 2018. Per the GJQC, Filhart stated that he believed it was a mistake to ever loan Coomer his money in the first place.
“I was depressed and making a lot of mistakes,” Filhart’s email read. “Had I been in my right mind, I would have said no to loaning you any money at all.”
When Filhart asked Coomer to repay his loans, Coomer allegedly refused until his own lender provided a letter from a mental health professional “to show you are not operating under any disability or diminished capacity.”
Furthermore, Filhart said he had difficulties hiring an attorney in the matter, stating “they either are all afraid of you or they are friends with you.”
The GJQC alleges that Coomer refused to give Filhart any bills or records related to his legal representation for more than a year.
“Only after a meeting with GJQC investigator Lance Alford on June 17, 2020, did Coomer agree to provide Filhart with the requested records,” the charges read.
The GJQC alleges that last March, Coomer submitted an application to SWBC Mortgage Corp. to obtain the money to pay back Filhart by refinancing his own home.
“Coomer did not list the outstanding loans owed to Filhart on the mortgage application, even though he had just declared the loans to be liabilities on his personal financial statement dated Dec. 14, 2019,” the charges read.
The GJQC alleges that Coomer did not disclose 43 campaign contribution disclosure report (CCDR) transactions between 2015 and 2019, claiming that “many of the transfers that were not disclosed on Coomer’s CCDRs were effectively short-term loans to cover minimal or overdrawn balances on Coomer’s law firm account.”
Additionally, the GJQC alleges that Coomer violated State law by declaring a “fictitious transfer of a loan to his campaign account in the amount of $50,000 on his Dec. 31, 2019, CCDR” and then declaring “a fictitious repayment of the loan from his campaign account on his April 30, 2020, CCDR.”
The commission also alleges that Coomer failed to disclose transfers of money from his campaign account to his law firm account multiple times, with those funds used “for his personal gain” in violation of Georgia ethics laws.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) did launch a probe into Coomer’s alleged activities in May. By the time 2020 ended, no criminal charges had been filed against Coomer.
“While engaged in the practice of law in the year prior to being appointed to the Georgia Court of Appeals, Coomer used his position of influence as the attorney of Filhart to craft wills, trusts and general powers of attorney so as to put himself and his family in a position to profit from Filhart’s estate and borrowed money from his client on unfair and unreasonable terms that benefited himself and his family,” the commission states. “Coomer’s conduct as alleged above constitutes willful misconduct in office and is prejudicial to the administration of justice, bringing the office of judge on the Georgia Court of Appeals into disrepute.”
Georgia Judicial Qualifications Commission Director Charles P. Boring told The Daily Tribune News he was very limited in what he could say about the case.
“Generally speaking, when formal charges are filed, they are prosecuted by the GJQC Investigative Panel Director,” he said. “It is heard by the hearing panel, which is a different panel of members who are the trier of fact in dealing with allegations of misconduct … if it gets to that point where there is an actual hearing to adjudicate whether the allegations have been proven or not.”
From there, he said the hearing panel’s decision goes to the Supreme Court of Georgia for further review — and, if appropriate, to determine disciplinary actions.
Boring, however, said there is currently no timetable for when Coomer’s case may go before a GJQC panel.
The Daily Tribune News also reached out to Dennis Cathey, a Cornelia-based attorney serving as legal counsel for Coomer. He did not respond to requests for comments prior to deadline.