WSAV INVESTIGATES: Chatham County judge under fire from attorneys for ‘not doing his job’

Local News

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Chatham County’s Probate Court judge is under fire from the lawyers who have to work with him.

Multiple attorneys say he is “not doing his job.”

Now they are using an “extraordinary” legal clause to try and force his hand to move their cases along.

A writ of mandamus is the legal action once considered rare that Probate Court Judge Tom Bordeaux has now faced five times in three years.

In the latest, there are nine Savannah families who say they want the money they are entitled to. But more than that, they say they just want their kids’ ordeal to be over.

“It’s almost a miscarriage of justice,” said Mark Tate, the attorney who filed the most recent writ of mandamus against Bordeaux.

“It’s to force the court to do something that they are supposed to do under their oath when they took that oath,” explained Tate.

Tate says Bordeaux is violating that oath by not approving the settlement with a staffing company back in 2019. The company is agreeing to a monetary settlement with nine families after a school nurse allegedly tampered with medicine for kids at Marshpoint Elementary School, instead giving them adult allergy medicine.

“There have been bench briefs applied,” said Tate. “There have been at least four phone calls to the court, a letter to the court from defense counsel saying what are we doing here.”

“Guardians ad litem approved every one of these resolutions, we still haven’t heard anything.”

“The weight is back on my shoulders,” explained Joann Smith, the mother of one of the children in the case. “I have a Charlie Brown cloud over my head. It’s rain, it is lightning. When is this going to be over?”

Smith says while the money would be nice, and is earmarked for her daughter’s college fund, more than anything she and Emily are just trying to move on.

“Do you feel in a way this judge has broken your trust as well?” News 3 asked.

“Oh yeah,” nodded Smith. “He’s supposed to protect us, protect our children, and he’s not doing that.”

Tate’s writ is one of five filed against Bordeaux since 2018. The other four are all related to gun permit requests.

News 3 reached out to Bordeaux for direct comment on the issues. He would not speak on camera, instead referring us to his legal response to Tate’s complaint.

In his written response to this complaint, the judge blames the Chatham County Commission.

“There is significant understaffing and a lack of sufficient funding,” the response says. “along with a difficult and overwhelming workload and the COVID-19 global pandemic which has significantly slowed the work of the defendant and the entire Probate Court.”

“These cases were filed in August of 2019 in order to get them approved,” countered Tate. “They were fully bench briefed by December 2019 so there really was no reason for there to be a COVID-19 delay.”

These are issues Bordeaux brought directly to the Commission’s attention back in June of 2019. He stood up at the meeting and said: “I cannot do it. I simply cannot do my job without having a law clerk.”

But the numbers don’t back up Bordeaux’s complaints.

Looking at the County budget from 2019-2021, the Probate Court budget for personnel alone has increased from $1,171,998 to $1,269,364 in 2020 to $1,346,752 in fiscal year 2021.

The total, the Probate Court budget has risen from $1,281,395 in 2019 to $1,549,471 in fiscal year 2021.

“It’s quite stunning that someone who wanted this job, now claims they are overwhelmed, can’t do the job, is not doing the job, and instead blames the County Commission for not giving him enough stuff,” explained Tate.

“You can’t point the finger at the person who is responsible for your paycheck when you aren’t doing your job.”

We reached out to County Commission Chairman Chester Ellis for a response to Bordeaux’s claims. The Commission refused to comment.

Tate says if Bordeaux or any judge doesn’t feel like they have enough resources to do the job or is overwhelmed by the responsibility, then there is one answer.

“In any position, if you are overwhelmed by what’s required of you, you leave,” Tate said.

But he says he isn’t focused on Bordeaux’s future, just the future of his clients and his case.

“I didn’t put us in this position. I am representing my clients, and it was time to make something happen, and this is that time,” Tate said.

“It’s time for it to be over,” he continued. “The parents are entitled to have it be over, the children are entitled to have it be over, the company that defended this is entitled to have this be done — and that’s what the Probate Court is supposed to do.”

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