Former HC probate judge indicted in 2014 sexual battery case

According to a news release by U.S. Attorney General Charles E. Peeler, former Hart County Probate Judge Bobby Joe Smith has been indicted on allegations he attempted to force himself on at least three women who asked for assistance in reducing or eliminating their traffic charges and punishments.

Smith resigned his position July 24, 2014 after being arrested in May on simple battery charges and criminal attempt to commit sexual battery as the result of a Georgia Bureau of Investigation probe into Smith’s actions. Smith had served as probate judge for 22 years.

The probate judge handles a variety of duties, from estate settlements to traffic court to issuing firearms permits and marriage certificates.

Smith asked in his letter of resignation to Gov. Nathan Deal that the resignation take effect on Sept. 30 of that year. Smith took a medical leave immediately after announcing his resignation.

The release by the U.S. Attorney General’s office states, “Bobby Joe Smith, 77, of Hartwell, faces one count of bribery and three counts of civil rights violations in the alleged sexual assaults committed between May 2013 and May 2014. None of the women consented to Smith’s advances.”

In the first alleged assault, which initially began in May 2013, the woman sought Smith’s help with three separate traffic incidents — including a DUI charge believed to be her third. Smith told the woman she’d be on “private probation” with him and required her to report to his office regularly to make cash payments to him, according to the indictment.

In several of their meetings, Smith allegedly sexually assaulted the woman, including one incident in which it’s suspected he put his hands down her skirt and grabbed her while she was holding her young niece. The woman’s traffic charges and fines were eventually reduced by Smith.

The indictment continues, stating Smith continued with the assaults in October 2013, touching a second woman on her breasts and attempting to “put his hand underneath her shirt to touch her breast.” On one occasion, Smith allegedly showed the woman his genitals and forced her to touch them. The victim pulled her hand away. Smith tried to unzip her pants, the indictment alleges, but the woman backed away.

During their meetings, Smith locked the door to his chambers and blocked the woman from leaving, according to the indictment. On another occasion, Smith allegedly called the woman and asked her if she knew a place where they could have sex.

The victim was sentenced for her traffic violations by another judge in August 2016.

The third victim approached Smith in May 2014 regarding a “super speeder” ticket she received in Bryan County. Smith called the Bryan County probate court and falsely told the person who answered that the victim was his granddaughter, according to the indictment. Once the conversation ended, Smith told the woman he’d contact her if he heard back from the county about the charges.

When she got up to leave, Smith leaned in for a kiss on the lips and touched the woman’s breasts, the indictment alleges. As she pulled away, Smith’s grip tightened around her. The woman told Smith “no,” managing to get out of his grip.

She left the office and did not meet with him again. Her charges were resolved by a Bryan County judge in May 2015.

The sexual battery allegations are not the only time Smith had ran afoul of Georgia law. In March 2013, Smith was investigated by the Georgia Judicial Qualifications Commissions for inappropriate activities regarding his son, who was running for chief magistrate in Hart County. In May of that year, the commission ordered a reprimand, but did not make the details public.

Smith is expected to have his initial court appearance April 25.