It is not every day that a sitting judge orders an ethics investigation into his former boss.
But that’s what happened last week when Superior Court Judge Christopher C. Edwards ordered District Attorney Scott Ballard and Chief Public Defender Joe Saia to investigate a rumored “improper intimate relationship” between recently resigned Chief Superior Court Judge Paschal A. English Jr. and defense attorney of the Fayette County Public Defender’s Office.
Edwards summoned Ballard and Saia in last Wednesday to issue the order sparking the investigation, and Saia placed Kim Cornwell on administrative leave pending the outcome of the probe. They are to report their findings to the court at a later date.
Ballard said his office will be working to determine if such a relationship existed between Judge English and Cornwell. It is a task that deviates from the typical role of the DA’s office, which is to investigate and prosecute criminal cases.
Saia this weekend said his office has already conducted a thorough review of Cornwell’s cases in front of Judge English, and none of them appeared to have any more favorable actions from the bench when compared to the cases for the other two public defenders in Fayette County.
“My major concern was if the relationship affected her representation of her clients,” Saia said. The review, however, “showed no favoritism for Kim’s clients and no punishment” for the other clients not represented by Cornwell, Saia added.
“They were treated pretty much equally,” Saia said. “I talked to the other two lawyers and they’d never seen anything to indicate there was ever any unfair treatment or ‘more than fair’ treatment.”
Ballard has said he hasn’t perceived any judicial bias from English in any of Cornwell’s cases either.
“But we’ll look into it as he (Judge Edwards) directed us to and to see what turns up,” Ballard said.
If an intimate relationship between Judge English and Cornwell is substantiated, an independent agency with more investigative capabilities will likely be summoned for help such as the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Ballard said.
Ballard said he wants to have more facts available before he makes that determination.
Rumors of a relationship between Cornwell and Judge English have flown all over the county, particularly after English resigned Apr. 23, just four days following the resignation of Superior Court Judge Johnnie Caldwell. Caldwell resigned under pressure from the Georgia Judicial Qualifications Commission, and soon thereafter admitted to making inappropriate remarks to female attorneys.
Unlike Caldwell’s case, there was no JQC probe occurring at the time English resigned.
If there was some sort of personal relationship between English and Cornwell, it would be suspect that English would not have recused himself from cases involving Cornwell, who has been the lead public defender on several high-profile cases in the past several years.
Ballard said he was determined not to let the investigation deter his office from continuing to effectively prosecute criminal cases.
The investigation is a “terrible situation” not just for the allegations themselves but also for the two families involved, Saia said. He also had nothing but nice things to say about Cornwell’s dedication to her job.
“She’s loyal and dedicated,” Saia said. “Her clients love her and I said that on the record to Judge Edwards and Judge (Tommy) Hankinson. And they know that.”