Defamation lawsuit filed by Chief Judge Tammy Stokes

Savannah attorney Mark Tate is representing Judge Tammy Stokes in defamation lawsuit. (Credit: Robert Catanese)

Attorney Mark Tate is representing Chatham County Recorder’s Court Chief Judge Tammy Stokes in a defamation lawsuit filed Wednesday.

The suit is centered around an independent investigation paid for by the city and conducted by attorney Maury Bowen.

According to court documents, both Bowen and the law firm Hall, Arbery, Gilligan, Roberts and Shanlever, LLP are named in the suit.

“This investigation had a predetermined conclusion,” said Tate.

In the investigative report, Bowen alleges Stokes carries out her judicial duties while under the influence of alcohol. The same report alleges Stokes is a racist and that she engaged in favoritism and other allegations of professional incompetence.

These are just a few allegations within Bowen’s report that prompted the lawsuit.

“About the way she was treated by this law firm that was hired by the city and the county to conduct its six-figure investigation. This was anything but an independent investigation and instead was conducted in bad faith with malicious intent,” said Tate.

According to documents obtained by FOX 28, Bowen's law firm was paid $110,367.96 for legal services by the city, Tate says this was for the Stokes investigation.

FOX 28 reached out for the city’s comment regarding the Stokes lawsuit. They released the following statement:

“Early last year, the City of Savannah received two complaints of workplace harassment within Chatham County Recorder’s Court. Since employees of the court are City employees, the City of Savannah hired an employment attorney, Maury Bowen, to conduct an independent factual investigation into the complaints, as the City has in other similar situations. Ms. Bowen’s process was to interview every current and a number of former employees of Recorder’s Court, totaling more than 40 interviews in all. The interviewees included the accused parties, and all three judges of the court. Ms. Bowen’s report is comprised of information she received during these interviews, in addition to a review of documents provided to her. The City of Savannah believes that Ms. Bowen conducted the investigation in keeping with City policy and applicable law. We believe that this process was sound, and the report accurately reflects the information which the employees provided”

The 150-page lawsuit states, among other claims, that Bowen recklessly and negligently printed incorrect information about Judge Stokes.

“Judge stokes was not accorded any due process about the conclusion made by the investigation,” said Tate.

FOX 28 reached out to attorney Maury Bowen for comment as well. Her office said she had no comment.

Tate says his investigation may go beyond Bowen's report and may involve Judge Claire Williams, also from the Recorder’s Court.

“It's time now to find out exactly what the level of collusion was between the accuser and the accused here and find out what the interaction was between the investigator and the accusing judge,” said Tate.

Tate’s accusations go a step further and says this lawsuit may reflect a deeper seeded issue.

“A good 'ole boy system in Savannah and Chatham County, and I think that there's an institutionalized way that some of those in power like to see power to run, and I think that Tammy Stokes flew in the fly of that,” said Tate.

In the end, Tate says his ultimate objective is very simple: “Our goal is to make sure that the truth is known about her, that she didn't hasten any co-workers death, she is not racist in any way, that she has a fantastic judicial temperament and to right this wrong she has suffered.”

Bowen and her firm will have six months for discovery. After that, Tate says he is hoping for a trial date.