- Tyler Estep The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
A Gwinnett County judge and longtime local politician was suspended Tuesday after writing controversial Facebook posts about protests over Confederate memorials in Charlottesville, Virginia, and elsewhere.
The controversy surrounding Jim Hinkle — a magistrate judge who served as mayor of the city of Grayson for more than two decades — comes just as the uproar surrounding another Gwinnett official’s Facebook posts was beginning to die down. Hinkle’s posts also raise questions about the impartiality of a man tasked with helping decide the fates of defendants in one of the most diverse communities in the Southeast.
“Another compelling argument to not engage in social media,” longtime Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter said of Hinkle’s posts. “I think that the comments could raise questions about the judge’s impartiality, and I think [Chief Magistrate Judge Kristina Hammer Blum] did exactly the right thing suspending him immediately upon learning of the posts.”
Reached at his home early Tuesday afternoon, Hinkle, who retired as mayor of Grayson in 2013, said he didn’t “see anything controversial” about his posts.
“But you know, with the way things are going in the world today, I guess everything’s controversial,” he said, declining to comment further.
Hinkle, a proud Marine Corps veteran and bar member since 1969, took to Facebook on Saturday to label the protesters in Charlottesville “snowflakes” with “no concept of history.” On Tuesday morning, he followed that post with another, this one comparing “the nut cases tearing down monuments” to the Islamic State.
A few hours after the second post, Blum told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that she had suspended Hinkle. Blum said she’d been unaware of the recent post and others until the AJC asked her for comment.
“After reviewing the Facebook posts you brought to my attention this morning, I have suspended Judge Hinkle effective immediately while I consider the appropriate final action,” Blum wrote in an email.
“As the Chief Magistrate Judge, I have made it clear to all of our judges that the Judicial Canons, as well as our internal policies, require judges to conduct themselves in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity, impartiality, and fairness of the judiciary.”
Hinkle’s weekend post was written less than an hour before a man police identified as a one of the white supremacists rallying in Charlottesville allegedly drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing one and injuring many more.
“In Charlottesville everyone is upset over Robert E. Lee statute (sic),” Hinkle’s post said, in part. “It looks like all of the snowflakes have no concept of history. It is what it is. Get over it and move on. Leave history alone — those who ignore history are deemed (sic) to repeat the mistake of the past.”
The post was one of several on Hinkle’s page that could raise questions about judicial fairness, especially in Gwinnett County, whose population has more black, Hispanic and Asian residents than white ones.
In March, Hinkle shared a link to a story with the headline “U.S. Marine Dad Makes School PAY After Pushing Muslim Propaganda On Little Girl.” In a January post, the judge declared himself “proud to be a deplorable infidel.”
In June 2016, he wrote the following post, an apparent reference to Islam: “This is a tenet of what peaceful religion? ‘Slay the unbelievers wherever you find them.’”
Two months earlier, on the same day the United States Treasury announced that Underground Railroad leader Harriet Tubman would replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill, Hinkle wrote this: “Well, the U.S. Treasury has just announced the ugliest $20 bill, or any money ever.”
Hinkle’s Facebook page appeared to be deactivated or set to private sometime around 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, after the AJC first attempted to contact him and other Gwinnett County officials regarding his recent posts.
Gabe Okoye, the chairman of Gwinnett County’s Democratic Party, called for Hinkle to “apologize and resign.”
“When history of oppression and bigotry is celebrated, future generations may accept such as societal norms,” Okoye told the AJC. “Given his biased views on this Charlottesville matter, how can ethnic minorities and religions trust him to render fair and equitable justice from the bench?”
Charlotte Nash — the chairman of Gwinnett’s Board of Commissioners, which has no authority over the county court system — declined to comment directly on Hinkle’s social media activity. She’s spent the last eight months or so trying to maintain order in the wake of colleague Tommy Hunter’s own controversial social media posts.
In January, Hunter, the county’s District 3 commissioner, called U.S. Rep. John Lewis, a noted civil rights leader, a “racist pig” on Facebook. Hunter has since been publicly reprimanded, had his lawsuit over that reprimand dismissed and filed an appeal of that decision with Georgia’s Supreme Court.
Commission meeting protests over Hunter’s comments lasted months but have largely died down in recent weeks. About 10 of the regular Hunter protesters were at Tuesday afternoon’s commission meeting, though only two of them addressed the board.
One, Duluth resident Susan Clymer, praised Blum’s handling of the Hinkle situation.
“Is racism repugnant to you in Gwinnett County?” Clymer asked the board. “I hope your answers are emphatic yeses.”