A state commission has filed a formal complaint against Superior Court Judge David Cannon, stemming from a social media post he wrote in the aftermath of the March 16 spa shootings in Cherokee County and Atlanta.

The Georgia Judicial Qualifications Commission filed charges July 22 with the Georgia Supreme Court, alleging seven violations of the state Code of Judicial Conduct.

Cannon wrote a Facebook post in defense of Cherokee Sheriff’s Office Capt. Jay Baker, who came under intense scrutiny in national media and on social media after a March 17 press conference on the mass shootings.

In explaining the motives of the gunman, Robert Aaron Long, Baker said Long “was pretty much fed up and at the end of his rope, and yesterday was a really bad day for him and this is what he did.” Sheriff Frank Reynolds has apologized for the comments.

The next day, Cannon posted a transcript of the press conference to his Facebook page, and shared his thoughts on the exchange.

“I believe (Baker) was summarizing what he was told by the investigators that interviewed the accused from the accused perspective. And Jay was not saying from Jay’s perspective that the accused had a bad day. Feel free to disagree, but read the transcript first!” he wrote. “The REAL STORY should be (about) how an accused mass killer was apprehended 200 miles away via incredible work of our public safety and law enforcement agencies within hours.”

The judge also responded to a few people’s comments on his post, including agreeing with one who said Baker shouldn’t have made the comments.

“As a judge I don’t like them tainting the jury pool about a confession that may or may not be admissible depending on the circumstances. So I’d rather them just say ‘we caught him,’” he said.

Cannon told the commission in May that when he made the post, he knew the case had been assigned to Judge Ellen McElyea, according to the complaint, but he could be asked to sign warrants in the case.

There are three superior court judges in the Blue Ridge Judicial Circuit, which serves Cherokee County: Cannon, McElyea, and Judge Tony Baker, who is Jay Baker’s brother.

According to the complaint, Cannon told the commission’s investigative panel in May that he knew he was “pushing the rule.”

Lester Tate, an attorney representing Cannon, told the Tribune there are legal issues with the complaint. He pointed to a 2002 Supreme Court case that ruled the First Amendment protects judicial candidates’ ability to express their views on disputed legal and political issues.

“The United States Supreme Court...has made it pretty clear that judges can express their opinions on legal and political matters from time to time and under certain circumstances, and I don’t see any reason this would not be one of those circumstances,” he said. “Judge Cannon, both as a lawyer and a judge, enjoys an outstanding reputation around the state, and while we would certainly work toward trying to resolve this complaint, I think that there are strong defenses to the things that are alleged in that complaint.”

JQC Director Charles Boring did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Proceedings held by the commission, which investigates complaints against judges, are private and not subject to the Georgia Open Records Act until they are officially filed with the high court.

Cannon has 30 days from the filing date, or until Aug. 21, to formally respond to the complaint, Tate said. Later, a commission panel will review the complaint.

Tuesday, Long pleaded guilty to murder, aggravated assault and other charges in the mass shooting in Cherokee County, which killed four people. He was sentenced to four consecutive life sentences, plus 35 years in prison without the possibility of parole. He still faces murder charges in Fulton County, where four more people were killed and prosecutors have said they are seeking the death penalty and hate crimes charges.

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