Barrett sent his letter of retirement to Governor Nathan Deal on Wednesday, bringing his 20-year judicial career to a close. Afterward, Barrett told The Nugget he did not want his family to have to go through the ordeal of a pending investigation by the Georgia Judicial Qualifications Commission and possible protests from the public.
"I'm not putting up with that for my family," he said "It's called public service, not because you're getting rich."
News of Barrett's alleged courtroom behavior hit the Associated Press wire over the weekend and spread far and wide.
It was a controversy that began when Barrett extended his weapon to a witness, the victim of alleged gun violence, and reportedly suggested that it would be easier if she used the gun instead on her attorney Andrea Conarro, according to District Attorney Jeff Langley.
The incident drew an immediate response from Langley as he approached the bench and asked Barrett to put away the handgun.
“I felt I had a responsibility to do so,” he said. “I didn’t feel the judge was actually threatening anyone, but I felt the display of the gun was inappropriate.”
Lumpkin County Sheriff Stacy Jarrard said at least one deputy was present at the hearing and did not feel inclined to take action when the weapon emerged.
“A judge is authorized to carry a gun in a courtroom at all times and there is no violation in the law in that,” he said. “ ... It is was my understanding he was using it as a prop.”
Langley said he got the same impression from Barrett as he took issue with a witness who was “not being cooperative with her own attorney.”
“In Judge Barrett’s defense he was making a rhetorical point using the gun,” Langley said. “He did not point the gun in anger. Now was that the proper thing in the courtroom? I have to say no.”
Rich Reaves, executive director of the University of Georgia’s Institute of Continuing Judicial Education, told The Nugget that Barrett’s actions weren’t just improper but a violation of the judicial canon in more ways than one.
“What does that communicate to the average citizen?” he said. “ ... Just the gun in itself probably communicates that there’s something less than wholesome about the [proceedings].”
Reaves said Barrett’s involvement in the case, with or without a firearm, was most likely inappropriate as well.
“That happens without a gun probably quite often,” he said. “The question is should it happen? Should a judge be commenting upon the trajectory of a case? The answer to that question is no.”
The Nugget requested a transcript of the courtroom proceedings from Appalachian Court Reporting but it was not provided in time for press.
Though the each courtroom in the new Justice Center has been outfitted with surveillance camera an apparent “glitch” is keeping officials from viewing any footage of the proceedings, said Jarrard.
“It’s a problem that’s been ongoing for a while,” he said.
Jarrard added that footage might still be salvageable but will need technical maintenance.
Conarro declined to comment on the incident.