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Statements from officials on English-Cornwell affair

Four officials involved in the court-ordered investigation of the now confirmed in appropriate relationship between former judge Paschal L. English Jr. and public defender Kimberly Cornwell have issued statements. The officials are Griffin circuit public defender Scott Ballard, circuit chief public defender Joseph Saia, Ballard’s chief investigator Jeff Turner and Fayette County sheriff Wayne Hannah. Here are those statements: SCOTT BALLARD: As you all know, our judiciary has been sliced in half by the sudden resignation within 4 days of each other of two of our most experienced and capable judges. On April 28, anxieties were high in the courthouse. The media was reporting that one of our remaining judges, Christopher C. Edwards, was also under investigation. There were even reports that he had resigned. So on that day, Judge Edwards ordered Joe Saia (the public defender) and me to investigate rumors that one of the judges who was already resigning had been involved in an intimate relationship with an assistant public defender who regularly practiced in his courtroom. There is legal authority that urges judges to recuse themselves from hearing cases under those circumstances. At the meeting a court reporter was present. There was an ‘off-the-record’ discussion for over forty minutes and then Judge Edwards asked the court reporter to take down the remainder of the meeting. He told those present at the meeting that he would order the record of the meeting transcribed and filed with the clerk. I understood that his stated purpose for acting in this way was to ‘bring into the open’ matters that he felt had been allowed to remain secret for too long. I later learned that the unreported portion of the meeting had been audio recorded. After my polite requests for a copy of the recording were rebuffed, a change of tactics finally induced the production of the recording. It is available to you by open records request to my attention at the Fayette County District Attorney’s Office. It now appears to us that this investigation was ordered, not solely for the purpose of ‘bringing matters into the open’, but, also as a defensive measure to protect Judge Edwards from being accused of covering up wrong-doing by a fellow judge. That is not what the District Attorney’s Office exists to do. Nevertheless, we were ordered to investigate. So, this is what our investigation has revealed: On October 13,2008 a deputy observed Judge Paschal A. English and Assistant Public Defender Kim Cornwell engaged in a sexual act. The deputy’s patrol car camcorder recorded part of what he saw. At least one other deputy saw the video. According to the current sheriff, who was not yet in office at the time, the tape no longer exists. Beyond that we don’t know when the intimate relationship began. We are aware of 225 cases in which Mrs. Cornwell represented criminal defendants in front of Judge English after they were discovered together by the deputy. They are listed in the report. While it is not our determination to make, none of the current employees of my office or of the Circuit Public Defender’s Office hold the opinion that any defendants were prejudiced by whatever relationship existed between the judge and the lawyer. In a minute Joe Saia and I will field your questions. We have up here copies of these prepared remarks and of our report to assist you. I plan to respond to all of your questions as best I can, but after this press conference, I consider our involvement in this matter and our discussion about it with the media concluded. We have serious criminal matters to prepare for trial. I hope you will understand and honor my desire to refocus our office away from the disappointing and distracting choices by our judges and onto our critical responsibilities as prosecutors in the Griffin Judicial Circuit. JEFF TURNER: Upon your direction, I have investigated the allegations of an inappropriate relationship between Judge Paschal English and Assistant Public Defender Kim Cornwell, and if a relationship was found, whether or not it had any adverse effect in any way inside the courtroom of Judge English. The following are my findings. On April 28, 2010, you, Scott and Public Defender Joe Saia (who brought with him Chief Assistant Public Defender Allen Adams) were summoned to a courtroom, and then into court chambers, by Judge Christopher Edwards. As you and I talked at the beginning of this investigation, you informed me that also present at this meeting were Judge Tommy Hankinson, law clerk Stephen Harris, and Judge Edward’s court reporter, Darryl Brooks. You informed me that before the meeting went on the record, that there was a discussion of the information to be shared in this meeting, with both Judges Edwards and Hankinson providing input. This part of the meeting was not being transcribed by court reporter Brooks. However, I did not realize, nor did you, Joe Saia, nor Allen Adams, that the session of the meeting prior to being transcribed was being recorded. I came upon this information while speaking with Joe Saia and Allen Adams during the course of my investigation. Adams informed me that he was sitting next to court reporter Brooks, and that Brooks was not transcribing, yet on his computer screen, words were showing up. This is when I figured out that this meeting was being taped. You are aware that we have asked for these tapes several times from Judge Edwards’ office, following his instructions on how to go about getting them. It seems that we have been blocked at each turn. I find this disturbing since the purpose of this investigation was to get things into the open and restore trust in the Griffin Judicial Circuit. What I find more disturbing was a comment that was made by Judge Edwards, that has been verified by you, Joe Saia, and Allen Adams. This comment, not knowing the exact words at this time, was something to the effect of Judge Edwards saying that he hoped, ‘Judge English hated him for the rest of his life,’ or something close to that. As I type this, I have just received a phone call from you, with you informing me that you have received a CD from court reporter Darryl Brooks, a CD which contains the conversation of the non-transcribed portion of the meeting. Scott, both you and I have now listened to the non-transcribed, but recorded meeting. We have both verified that Judge Edwards did make the statement that ‘my fondest hope is that Paschal English hates me for the rest of his life.’ As you know, this statement was made in conjunction with informing you and Joe Saia of the allegation made against Judge English and Kim Cornwell. Again, I find this comment to be disturbing, especially since Judge English had already submitted his resignation. I agree that trust should be restored in the circuit, and that if any courtroom improprieties occurred that they should be brought to light, but this comment seemed to be a bit vengeful. I base this on listening to the entire tape. According to Judge Edwards, in the transcribed portion of the meeting, he received information on April 12, 2010, about the possibility of an improper relationship going on between Judge English and Kim Cornwell. Then on April 28, 2010, 16 days later, Judge Edwards makes this known to you and Joe Saia and orders, or suggests, that an investigation be done to find out if this improper relationship exists and if so, has it affected any cases in Judge English’s courtroom. Though Judge Hankinson was present in the meeting, it was not made clear as to when he learned of this information. I have spoken with Chief Public Defender Joe Saia and Assistant Chief Public Defender Allen Adams about this at length. Joe Saia has informed me that over a year or so ago, the standards council for the Public Defender system received a letter from someone, stating that there was an improper relationship going on between Judge English and Kim Cornwell. Joe Saia says that he confronted Cornwell with this information, and she informed him that she was not involved in an improper relationship with Judge English. Obviously, based on information obtained in this investigation that was not the whole truth. Both Saia and Adams informed me that each employee in the Fayette Public Defender’s Office has been questioned and no one has any information about an alleged improper relationship between Judge English and Kim Cornwell. Furthermore, all of the employees stated that they have not seen any improper conduct in Judge English’s courtroom. The employees have stated that it has always been business as usual, with no favor going to the state or the defense. At this point in the meeting with Saia and Adams, I informed them that I could prove that Judge English and Kim Cornwell had an improper relationship. Based on information I received during the investigation I came across information that a Fayette County Deputy had actually caught Judge English and Kim Cornwell in a compromising position that verified the improper relationship. According to Deputy Kris Purkey of the Fayette County Sheriffs Department, on October 13,2008, he was patrolling the Water Lace subdivision, where several houses were under construction, where he found parked in a cul de sac was a maroon in color vehicle. Purkey says that he pulled behind the vehicle and called in the tag number, and could see a female facing towards the back direction of the vehicle in the right front passenger seat. A check of the tag reveals that the vehicle is in the name of David Cornwell, the husband of Kim Cornwell. Purkey states that as he approached the vehicle from the passenger side, he noticed that the female was straddling a male person, later identified to be Judge Paschal English. At the time of this incident, Purkey was not familiar with the female, as he was the male, and she was later identified to him as Assistant Public Defender Kim Cornwell. Purkey says that upon his approach of the vehicle, he could tell that both Cornwell and English were engaged in the physical act of fornication. Purkey says that both his body mic and car camera were activated, with the incident being recorded. After speaking with both parties, Purkey advised them to move on, in which they did. Purkey then called Deputy Chris Stapleton, who was off duty, but lives nearby. Both Purkey and Stapleton met in a parking lot at which time Purkey advised Stapleton of what he had just witnessed, and then showed Stapleton the tape from the car camera. A subsequent interview with Chris Stapleton verified this information for me. Purkey says that he marked the tape for evidence, and then notified Cpt Brian Eubanks of the incident. Cpt Eubanks has verified for me that Purkey did pass this information along to him. As far as the video is concerned, our office has been notified by Sheriff Hannah that this video no longer exists, as it was on a server that kept the video files for a period of one year, and then removed for storage space. Attached is the letter from Sheriff Hannah with a detailed explanation. This event establishes the improper relationship that had been rumored to have been going on between Judge English and Kim Cornwell. I have additionally reviewed cell phone records, and there are several calls between Judge English and Cornwell. I have reviewed email records which did not provide any information. It is unknown as to how long the relationship between Judge English and Kim Cornwell went on. It is unclear as to when the relationship started, and when and if it has been discontinued. I attempted to interview both Judge English and Kim Cornwell concerning this matter, and both stated they had no comments to make. After establishing that there was in fact an improper relationship between Judge English and Kim Cornwell, I looked into whether there were any improprieties in Judge English’s courtroom when cases came before him that involved Kim Cornwell as the defense attorney. It can be established that Judge English wanted Kim Cornwell’s cases assigned to his courtroom. This was verified in the recorded meeting of you, Scott, Joe Saia, Allen Adams, and Judge Hankinson when Judge Edwards announced that Judge ‘English wanted Kim Cornwell’s cases assigned to his courtroom.’ Several ADA’s have also verified this information. In addition, I have in my possession the taped courtroom calendar call of September 22, 2009, where Judge Edwards was calling the calendar and sending Kim Cornwell’s cases to Judge English’s courtroom. It should be noted that Judge Edwards did take pleas from some of Cornwell’s defendants on this date. As stated earlier, I have interviewed both Joe Saia and Allen Adams, and they have spoken with each member of the Fayette County Public Defender’s staff, and each member has not seen any favoritism either for the defense or for the state when Kim Cornwell was in front of Judge English. According to Chief Public Defender Joe Saia, he is not aware of any improprieties in Judge English’s courtroom when Kim Cornwell was the attorney for a defendant. Each member of the District Attorney’s staff, most especially the ADAs, were interviewed, and with the exception of one attorney, no other attorney has seen any improprieties in Judge English’s courtroom when Kim Cornwell was the defendant’s attorney. As a matter of fact, there have been several trials where Cornwell’s client received stiff sentences after conviction. Plea recommendations from the District Attorney’s Office ADA’s were given to Kim Cornwell’s clients through Cornwell herself. If any wrong doing was going on inside the courtroom where the state would have been harmed, the ADA’s would have known about it and reported it. This did not happen, and I state again, with the exception of one attorney, there were no complaints from the District Attorney’s staff. Now, ADA Robert Smith did indicate to me that there were a couple of occasions where he felt that though no defendant’s rights were harmed, he sensed a favoritism between Judge English and Kim Cornwell. Upon consultation with you, Scott, and other attorney’s within our circuit, I have determined that we cannot control a judge’s interpretation of the law, and also the state was not harmed in a certain plea negotiation that Smith called into question. In a nutshell, though attorneys feel certain ways about their cases, in the totality of the circumstances in regards to the issue at hand, neither the defense nor the state were harmed in anyway due to the relationship between Judge English and Kim Cornwell. In closing, I do find undisputed evidence that there was an improper relationship between Judge English and Kim Cornwell. However, I do not find evidence that any improprieties, i.e., instances where the state or defendant were harmed by actions of the court, ever took place in Judge English’s courtroom at all, much less when Kim Cornwell was the attorney for a defendant. SHERIFF WAYNE HANNAH: I am in receipt of a Grand Jury Subpoena requiring the production of certain evidence relating to an investigation concerning former Superior Court Judge Paschal English and Public Defender Kimberly Cornwell. Specifically the subpoena requests any and all information/audio tapes and incident/supplemental reports concerning Deputy Sheriff Kris Purkey finding these two individuals together at a location in Fayette County on October 13, 2008. There are no incident reports or supplemental reports that concern this encounter; none were prepared or would have been given the circumstances of the encounter in question. Deputy Sheriff Purkey did cause a computer record to be prepared at the E-911 Center that documented this encounter; the record includes a tag number which belongs to Mrs. Cornwell but little other information. A video recording, which included some audio, was made by Deputy Sheriff Purkey, but is no longer available. A part of our normal procedures, when Deputy Sheriffs approach a vehicle under suspicious circumstances our policy is to make a video recording of the encounter using the ‘in car’ video camera system. Deputy Sheriff Purkey followed those procedures on October 13, 2008 in the encounter that is the subject of the subpoena. Major Woodie advises me that the video included some audio and the images in the video include the suspicious vehicle; no individuals could be discerned from the recording except for Deputy Sheriff Purkey. I have not seen the video. Deputy Sheriff Purkey reported the encounter to then Lieutenant Brian Eubanks who was his immediate supervisor. He did so because Judge English had been involved although no criminal activity was observed. Lieutenant Brian Eubanks reported the encounter to his immediate supervisor, Captain Bryan Woodie. Captain Woodie reported the general circumstances of the encounter to Sheriff Randall Johnson and I; at the time, I was Director of the Traffic Enforcement Division and was Captain Woodie’s immediate supervisor. As I stated previously, the video recording made by Deputy Sheriff Purkey is no longer available. Major Bryan Woodie, now the Director of Field Operations explained to me why. The video camera system used by Deputy Sheriff Purkey was a server based digital system. Under the business rules established in this particular system at the time, non classified/non evidentiary videos were being retained on the computer server for 1 year before being automatically deleted from the server to conserve storage space. Video marked as evidence is retained indefinitely. The video recorded by Deputy Purkey was not marked as evidence and was automatically deleted from the server as much as a year ago. Deputy Sheriff Kris Purkey, Captain Brian Eubanks, and Major Bryan Woodie are available to appear before the Grand Jury to present testimony to these facts if you so desire. If my presence is still required, please let me know. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me. JOSEPH J. SAIA: ’¨ On April 28, 2010, I was asked by Judge Christopher Edwards to perform an investigation concerning allegations of an improper personal relationship between Judge English and Ms. Cornwell, the supervising attorney of our Fayette County office. However, two or three days earlier, after consulting with the Judicial Qualifications Commission and Mr. Scott Ballard, the Circuit District Attorney, I began an investigation concerning these allegations. This inquiry was prompted by information provided to me by a newspaper reporter, Mr. Bill Rankin, from the Atlanta Constitution. Mr. Rankin informed me that the reason for Judge English’s retirement was the allegation of a relationship with Ms. Cornwell. I immediately placed Ms. Cornwell on administrative leave, with pay, pending the inquiry. I notified Mr. Ballard of the allegations, the investigation and the status of Ms. Cornwell. I was able to obtain sufficient information from the JQC to justify this decision. My investigation emphasized determination as to any prejudice, positive or negative, to our clients. I am satisfied to report that a detailed review of the cases handled by Ms. Cornwell did not demonstrate any prejudice, positive or negative, directed to her clients, or the clients which were represented by the other lawyers from our Fayette Office. Additionally there was no evidence of clients who were represented by private lawyers were affected. The records which I utilized were obtained from the computer case management system which is maintained by the Clerk of Court. The data that I reviewed was provided to the District Attorney. I have spoken to both public defenders from our office and private lawyers. In addition I also reviewed client records, which are created by our office. These records are privileged and confidential. Consequently, only the lawyers in our office were relied upon to review these files. The results of this investigation resulted in finding that most of the clients who Ms. Cornwell represented entered guilty pleas, upon negotiation and recommendation from an assistant district attorney. Finally, those clients who went to trial with Ms. Cornwell as their lawyer did not receive sentences which were out of line with sentences received by individuals who were represented by other attorneys. My conclusion is that there was no favoritism, prejudice, or any diversion in the way Judge English and Ms. Cornwell conducted themselves professionally. I can authoritatively assure the Court that no defendants were affected by any personal relationship that might have existed between Ms. Cornwell and Judge English.

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