OPINION: Fayette County District Attorney Scott Ballard — a candidate for one of the two vacant judgeships in this district — has called out The Citizen for raising questions about his so-called “investigation” into misconduct by his long-time friend and now-disgraced Superior Court Judge Paschal English. Before we get down to cases, let’s alert Governor Sonny Perdue. Governor, if you choose Ballard to don judicial robes, you will be embarrassed.
This English sycophant has been caught in a public lie concocted, apparently, to discredit the only two remaining judges in this circuit with clean hands — Chris Edwards and Tommy Hankinson.
Far from restoring confidence in the impartial administration of justice in the Griffin Judicial Circuit, this D(istorting) Attorney has further damaged the public’s trust in its elected officials.
Additionally, he has short-circuited a full disclosure of the full extent of damage that might have occurred in dozens of cases because of the sexual relationship between then-Judge English and a state-paid assistant public defender, Kim Cornwell.
As both Judge Christopher Edwards and Judge Tommy Hankinson stated to a reluctant Ballard in the recordings attached to this document, innocent people might be in prison and guilty people might have been let go because of the unethical and unlawful relationship between a chief judge charged with strict impartiality and the public defender charged with the legal duty to represent defendants charged with all manner of crimes.
Ballard — probably the only sitting district attorney in the United States who writes a weekly newspaper column, however fraught with conflicts of interest that might be — launches his defense of the indefensible via that “special relationship” with the local legal organ.
Ballard says, “And then [the reporter] wrote an article that got everything wrong.”
Ballard is correct only in one fact: Our reporter John Munford got the date of the daylight tryst between the judge and the public defender wrong by one digit: It was 2008, not 2009, as he erroneously typed. We corrected that detail online as soon as it was brought to our attention.
Ballard also needs to correct his “correction” of Munford’s report about the letter that chief Public Defender Joe Saia supposedly received.
In fact, Saia on the recording states precisely that he never received and never saw that letter. He was speaking about a letter received by the state-level office of the public defenders council. Ballard says he reviewed the audio; he must have missed that part. So much for the D(istorter) Attorney’s veracity.
The rest of Ballard’s defense consists of his own errors, distortions and a restatement of the outright lie, the libel against Judge Edwards.
I have listened to the 1-hour-and-16-minute recording, and it is beyond belief that Ballard and his purportedly trained investigator could have mistaken the intent of an obviously distressed Judge Edwards. Any unbiased listener to that remarkable recording cannot miss the anguish of both judges. The distorted allegation is alien to and runs counter to the entire tenor of the recording.
Listen to that crucial part for yourself, in the audio-only attachment in the first 3 minutes of Part 2, attached below. Download the file and subject the entire recording to scrutiny and form your own conclusions.
Ballard and his investigator played a trick the gotcha TV reporters pull routinely: They selectively edited a quote from Edwards and left out the obvious lead-in to the allegedly “vengeful” statement. Their selective editing turned the statement upside down. What they accuse Edwards of saying is precisely what he is NOT saying, as the recording makes clear and the remainder of the recording proves beyond a reasonable doubt.
From Munford’s story: Reporters from The Citizen who listened to the same tape heard Edwards say this crucial preface: “I am NOT telling you, ah, that it is my fondest hope that Paschal English hates me for the rest of his life for doing what I’m doing …” [Emphasis added by The Citizen.]
Yet in their press conference last week and in Ballard’s follow-up defense, both Ballard and investigator Jeff Turner spend an inordinate time on blaming Edwards’ motives, going so far as to accuse Edwards of ordering the DA to investigate English in order to protect himself. Those who listen to the recording (parts 1 through 8 in sequential order) will not find even a hint of that motive in the entire 1 hour and 16 minutes.
“That is not what the District Attorney’s Office exists to do,” Ballard sniffed in his statement last week.
No, apparently the DA’s office exists to cover Ballard’s own highly exposed rear from dozens of potentially mishandled cases involving the star-crossed lovers.
In the recording, Judge Edwards told Ballard the DA could impanel an investigative grand jury as one option to look into the sordid affair. Listen to what Ballard says: “I don’t want to.”
No, the DA apparently wishes all the shameful episodes involving his oft-praised heroes — now-disgraced and resigned Judge Caldwell and now-disgraced and resigned Judge English — had never come to light. It was just weeks before the two resignations that Ballard had been gushing over the two in his weekly “special relationship” columns.
Notice I said, “had never come to light,” not “had never happened.”
Ballard wanted nothing to do with tracking down the real truth: “Nevertheless, we were ordered to investigate,” Ballard said in his news conference.
Judge Edwards’ order is the only reason any of us knows the sorry story of a judge’s deliberate decision to place himself and the administration of justice in this four-county circuit at grave peril.
Not because the district attorney wanted to get at the truth, but because he was ordered by a superior court judge to get at the truth. And even then, Ballard failed to uncover the cases most likely to have been prejudiced: Those that occurred BEFORE the two lovers were caught parking in a failed subdivision.
Ballard specifically and pointedly investigated only cases involving the two AFTER their sexual tryst was exposed to a deputy’s video camera. (Where DID that tape go, anyway? A deputy says he entered it into evidence; the sheriff says it was not entered into evidence. Curious.) One would assume that AFTER being discovered, the odd couple would clean up at least their public court act.
Ballard’s excuse? “I felt that we had done enough.” Yeah, I guess he would feel that. I wonder how all those defendants and all those families feel about how much our DA has done? As Judge Hankinson asks Ballard in the recording, “How would they know, Scott?”
I defy any reasonable person to listen to the entire recording — available below for listening or downloading — and come to the conclusion that Judge Edwards and his fellow Judge Hankinson were anything but anguished by the mess the two had been handed.
And Ballard was there, in the same room! How could he have misunderstood Judge Edwards’ intent, unless he was blinded by his own passions that favored the departed judges Caldwell and English against all evidence?
Closing the press conference last week, Ballard washed his hands of the dirty linen: “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.”
Based on his actions, we could conclude that Ballard’s assertion of “disappointing and distracting choices by our judges” meant — not the real culprits, Caldwell and English — but Edwards and Hankinson, who forced the poor DA to uncover nasty stuff he would rather leave hidden.
So what is the matter with our dawdling district attorney? Is he still so star-struck by an unethical judge that he feels compelled to libel the only good guys visible in this dark pile?
Is Ballard so angry about the uncovering of the facts that he will distort the truth about the motives of sitting judges (because Hankinson was in the same room at the same time and supported Edwards’ actions)?
Remember, both judges are bound by strict judicial rules that forbid them to speak about any of this or to defend themselves against a vengeful district attorney. Their mouths are sealed shut by law. Not so our D(istorting) Attorney. He can call press conferences and write weekly self-serving propaganda pieces and shift the focus from the malfeasants and blame the ones who turned the light on the unethical behavior.
Or is Ballard really only worried about having to go back and clean up the huge mess caused by the English-Cornwell affair, and would he really rather all that stuff about justice and ethics just go away?
Gov. Perdue, on second thought, don’t just NOT name this D(istorting) Attorney to the bench. Instead, appoint a special prosecutor from far outside this circuit and impanel a state grand jury from outside this tainted district and let’s get to the bottom of this putrefying pile of lies.
State Bar rules have been breached; judicial canons of ethics have been violated; and laws have been broken.
Two superior court judges have resigned within a week of each other, both under a cloud — a unique blot on Georgia jurisprudence.
The Judicial Qualifications Commission seems to have stuck its collective head up its … uh … in the sand, and prefers that all this just be forgotten.
And a district attorney has libeled two upright judges and distorted the plain facts leading up to the hurried “investigation” conducted by an elected official who has admitted a two-decade-long friendship with the person he was investigating. Shouldn’t Ballard have done what any ethical judge would have done: Recuse himself?
No, Ballard creates his own cover-up and waits for the call from the governor’s office to anoint him as the new judge in town.
What a mess. In Judge Hankinson’s words: “This stinks.”
Clean this mess up, Governor.
And voters: Consider what Ballard knew and what he should have known, and what he did and what he didn’t do when this current excuse for a district attorney is up for reelection.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: The attachments below are sequential parts of a recording of a meeting that involved Judge Edwards (the first person to speak), Judge Hankinson, chief Public Defender Joe Saia, District Attorney Ballard, and Assistant Public Defender Allan Adams. The first 45 minutes comprise an off-the-record discussion; the second 31 minutes comprise an on-the-record continuation of that meeting. There are slight overlaps (from 1 to 6 seconds) from one part to the next. Part 1 is 13:43; Part 2 is 8:38; Part 3 is 13:25; Part 4 is 9:05; Part 5 is 7:32; Part 6 is 8:32; Part 7 is 7:33; and Part 8 is 7:49. If you can’t listen to the entire recording, at least listen to Part 2.]
— This column of opinion is written by Cal Beverly, editor and publisher of The Citizen.