Chief public defender hospitalized

Fayette County’s Chief Public Defender, Joe Saia, is hospitalized in Wilmington, N.C. after he fell ill and was rushed to the hospital late last week.

Saia was determined to be suffering from congestive heart failure, according to his office. As of Monday afternoon, he continues to recover and remains hospitalized.

Saia is responsible for overseeing the defense of all criminals deemed indigent in not just Fayette County but in the entire four-county Griffin Judicial Circuit which includes Spalding, Pike and Upson counties.

In his job Saia is rarely in the limelight, but June 11 was no such exception as he addressed the media at a press conference about one of his attorneys who had been caught in a physical affair with a sitting Superior Court Judge, Paschal A. English Jr.

Saia at the conference said he would most likely have to discipline the attorney, Kim Cornwell, though he would not reveal at the time how he would do so.

It was revealed at the press conference that Saia in March confirmed that about a year ago the Georgia Public Defender Standards Council had inquired with him about a letter it received claiming that Cornwell and Judge English were engaged in an affair.

Saia has said he soon thereafter asked Cornwell about the letter and she denied having an affair with Judge English, telling Saia they were just friends.

Yet based on the timing of that letter by Saia’s recollection, Cornwell’s denial of the affair may well have occurred after she and English were caught in a sexual act by a sheriff’s deputy Oct. 13, 2008 in a subdivision on the outskirts of Fayetteville.

It wasn’t until April of this year that the deputy’s encounter with Judge English and Cornwell was made public knowledge in an investigation undertaken by District Attorney Scott Ballard.