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PO Box 843, Zebulon, Georgia 30295. You can donate through PayPal by clicking here. Becky Watts: Phone # 770-468-7583 editor(@)pikecountytimes.com
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BREAKING NEWS: Judge Mack Crawford Enters Plea on Case
By Editor Becky Watts

ZEBULON - Robert (Mack) Crawford stood before Judge Maureen Gottfried in the Superior Court of Pike County in order to agree to a plea in State of Georgia vs. Robert M. Crawford. Mack had been charged with one count of felony theft by taking and two felony counts of violation of oath of office by the state of Georgia. Without a plea agreement, this case would have gone to a jury trial on Monday.

Judge Gottfried is from the Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit and was presiding over this case because it needed to be heard by someone from outside of the Griffin Judicial Circuit. On the defense side on the left of the courtroom were Mack Crawford, Brent Hutchison, and Virgil Brown on the left side of the courtroom. On the prosecutor’s side of the courtroom on the right were Sr. Assistant Attorney General Greg Lohmeier and Assistant Attorney General Sandy Bailey from the State Attorney General’s Office.

There was also another gentleman in a suit who sat in the jury box and seemed to oversee the hearing and eight people sitting in the audience. Three of those sitting in the audience were from local media outlets. The fourth media member's article is linked at the end of this article.

The Prosecution

Sr. Assistant Attorney General Greg Lohmeier spoke for the prosecution and outlined State vs. Robert M. Crawford. Judge Crawford was charged with two counts of theft by taking and violation of office. He outlined his case by saying that on December 11, 2017 in Pike County, the defendant took money that did not belong to him from the Registry of the Clerk of Court and converted it to his own use.

He gave the history by saying that Mr. Crawford was an attorney back in 2002 and had been asked by two clients, Dan Mike Clark and Bobbie Whalen, to represent them in a foreclosure case. $15,675.62 was placed into the court’s registry to help redeem the property. This is the amount of the purchase price, back taxes, and fees. He said that the case sat around for years and was dismissed later. At that time, the money was supposed to be returned to the clients. However, one of the clients died in 2004 and the other could not be located. In late 2017, the money was slated to be returned to the State of Georgia as unclaimed funds.

At that time, former Clerk of Court Carolyn Williams was in a discussion with Judge Crawford about how to handle this matter as he was the attorney of record at the time. He instructed her to give the money to him rather than send it to the Department of Revenue and gave her a handwritten letter for the file in December of 2017. In February of 2018, the prosecutor said that the Judicial Qualifications Commission found out, and Judge Crawford refunded the entire amount which was then sent to the State. Eventually, Ms. Whalen claimed the money. He said that this was the factual basis for the case.

He then laid out the negotiated Alford plea that had been reached with the defendant. An Alford plea is a guilty plea in which the defendant asserts innocence and does not admit guilt in the criminal act though this plea is basically admitting that the evidence presented on this case could likely persuade a judge or jury to find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

The negotiated plea included one count of misdemeanor theft by taking with 12 months probation and no fine as well the two counts of violation of oath of office that would be nolle pros’ed which means that they will not be prosecuted. Probation would be unsupervised and the state had no objection to sealing the record at the end of a year if all requirements are met with first offender status.

These requirements included Crawford’s retirement from the bench and an agreement that he would not run for election or apply for, run for, or serve as judge during his probation. The letter of resignation would be required to be hand-delivered to Governor Kemp’s office by the close of business tomorrow.

The Defense

Attorney Virgil Brown spoke on Judge Crawford’s behalf and said that they agree with most of the facts but not those pertaining to before Mack Crawford was a judge before 2004. He said that the plaintiffs represented by then attorney Mack Crawford were probably "common law married" (common law marriage has not been allowed here since January of 1997-see the note from the editor below) and agreed on the amounts that were set up for redeeming the property. However, he said that there was a verbal agreement to attorney’s fees on this case.

He also mentioned some irregularities regarding the death of Mr. Clark including the identification at the funeral home but said he was buried under a different name and that his name, social security number, birthday, and name were changed at the funeral home after his death.

He reiterated that Judge Crawford thought that the money was his based on his prior representation and nonpayment from the client. Virgil said that a lawyer doesn’t work for free, but that he returned the money because he thought he was told that if he paid the money back the case would go away. He said that he’s known Mack most of his life and that Mack wouldn’t have taken one cent if the money wasn’t his.

He mentioned that local attorney Eugene Dabbs was appointed by Probate Court to oversee Mr. Clark's estate regarding the money, that the State of Georgia found Ms. Bobbie Whalen and paid her the money. He also said that the case was too long ago to find any written documents pertaining to attorney’s fees.

[Note from the Editor added 2.7.20: Eugene Dabbs explained that the State of Georgia (specifically the State Attorney General's Office) found Ms. Whalen to give her the money from Mr. Clark's estate as he was working to oversee this estate. He also clarified that common law marriage has not been allowed in Georgia since before Ms. Whalen has claimed that she was common law married to Mr. Clark.]

He closed by saying that the defense is content with the plea. He asked to reserve the right to seal the case in six months if all conditions were met. The prosecution said that it had no objection.

Judge Gottfried walked Judge Crawford through the standard list of questions to ensure that he understood the plea, that he wasn’t forced to plead guilty, and that he understood all of the conditions of his plea. She advised that there will be no conviction on his record if all conditions were met, but that if he went back before the court, it could be detrimental to him. She asked if he was satisfied and accepted the plea and recommendations, and he said yes. She walked back through the plea and advised that he could appeal to the court in 6 months on his case.

The case of State vs. Robert M. Crawford was ended in less than 40 minutes in the Pike County Courtroom.

Final Thoughts

Judge Crawford gave a few comments after the meeting to WTGA Fun 101 Thomaston Radio, The GRIP newspaper out of Griffin, and Pike County Times. He said that he would wait until six months from now to readdress the court at the proper time. He also said that he still maintains his innocence but that accepting the Alford plea was in his best interest because going to court could have endangered his retirement. He also said that he had decided in 2016 not to run for re-election and that his term of office would have been up in December of this year. He said that his seat will be filled by an election with qualifying coming up in March for his position on the bench.

He finished by saying that he couldn’t risk his retirement by going to trial as was scheduled for Monday morning and said that he was relieved that this part of the case is over. Mack did say that there were still two parts of this case that needed to be decided including the State Bar and JQC complaints but was very optimistic now that this part of the case was over because this may impact the JQC part of the case.

Pike County Times spoke with attorney Virgil Brown for a few minutes after the case was concluded. Virgil said that then attorney Crawford was hired by Clark more than once and that Crawford wasn’t paid either time. He said that this wouldn’t have been a crime if they could find paperwork regarding payment. He also showed the death certificate and various other items regarding changed names and social security numbers and evidence that disability was drawn in Pike County for years following Clark’s death and said that he would be turning that over to the proper authorities for them to investigate.

Special thanks to Attorney Eugene Dabbs for answering multiple questions on this case especially regarding the money and estate aspect of the case.

The prosecutors were also asked for a statement from the State on this case. Pike County Times was advised that the request would be and was forward to the Communications Director of the Office of the Attorney General Chris Carr. As of the posting of this breaking news article, no reply has been received by email. If a reply is given, Pike County Times will update this article accordingly.

UPDATE 2.7.20: Katie Byrd, Communications Director for the Office of Attorney General Chris Carr, contacted Pike County Times by email this morning to provide an informal copy of the resignation letter and a copy of the final disposition on this case. Pike County Times quoted the final disposition of the sentence but did not have a copy of the resignation letter. She stated for the record, "Our office has no further comment on the matter."

The resignation letter reads as follows and was dated February 6, 2020: "Dear Governor Kemp, Please accept this letter as a resignation from my position as a Superior Court Judge of the Griffin Judicial Circuit. This resignation should become effective upon your acceptance. I have enjoyed serving the people of the State of Georgia for the past 27 years. Sincerely, Robert M. Crawford, Judge, Superior Court, Griffin Judicial Circuit."

Here is an article that gives an overall of the entire case: Pike County Judge Robert ‘Mack’ Crawford to Resign After Pleading Guilty to Theft The judge will be allowed to retire, and did not admit guilt as part of the plea deal. By By R. Robin McDonald. Click here to read this article.

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Updated 2.7.20