Well more than a year and a half ago, a Fayette County sheriff’s deputy came across a suspicious vehicle parked in a subdivision under construction, in the middle of the workday.
Little did he know that inside the car he would find a Superior Court judge along with a public defender. The judge was Chief Superior Court Judge Paschal A. English Jr. and the defense attorney was Kim Cornwell, facts confirmed today by Fayette County Sheriff Wayne Hannah.
A purported “improper intimate relationship” between English and Cornwell is being investigated by Fayette County District Attorney Scott Ballard and Public Defender Joe Saia. The investigation was ordered two weeks ago by Superior Court Judge Christopher C. Edwards two days before English served his last day on the bench, having tendered his resignation the previous week.
Hannah said he did not know the circumstances behind why Judge English and attorney Cornwell were in the vehicle in the subdivision. The incident took place before Hannah took office as sheriff, and he said he has not asked for an accounting of the incident because it did not occur “on my watch.”
“If the deputy said they were talking or not, I don’t know,” Hannah said. “I really don’t know.”
Attempts to reach English and Cornwell for comment have been unsuccessful as of this writing.
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.
Sheriff Hannah said it would be unlikely that the deputy’s investigation of the suspicious car containing English and Cornwell would have generated any type of written report. Typically as long as the occupants are law abiding, they might be allowed to stay or perhaps asked to leave the area depending on the circumstances, Hannah said.
Public Defender Joe Saia said two weeks ago that his office conducted a detailed examination of Cornwell’s cases in front of Judge English to see if there was any apparent prejudice when comparing the outcome of her clients to those of the office’s other two attorneys. Saia said that part of the probe detected no such bias.
District Attorney Scott Ballard said today that he would not comment on any aspect of the investigation at this point. Previously he has said he hasn’t been able to detect any bias for or against Cornwell in cases she had before Judge English.
Sheriff Hannah said Ballard’s office has already interviewed the deputy who found English and Cornwell in the vehicle, and if there is any other way his office can help with the investigation, it will.
English tendered his resignation last month, four days after fellow Superior Court Judge Johnnie L. Caldwell Jr. resigned in the wake of an investigation by the Judicial Qualifications Commission. Caldwell soon after publicly admitted to making inappropriate comments to female attorneys.
Several days later, The Citizen learned that Caldwell’s resignation followed the revelation of him making sexually charged comments to … and about … Peachtree City divorce attorney Susan Brown. The comments became part of a divorce case because Brown, in a private discussion with Judge Edwards, contended Caldwell had entered unfair rulings in the case due to the alleged sexual harassment.
Brown told The Citizen that in fall 2008 she informed Chief Judge English about Caldwell’s inappropriate remarks to her, but English took no action and instead told her to work the matter out with Caldwell on her own.
Edwards, who was presiding over the divorce case in question, made sure that attorneys for all parties were aware of the allegation of judicial bias because of the potential impact it may have had on the case. In an effort to try the two and a half year old case, Edwards asked attorneys to waive objections to all previous orders entered in the case, but ultimately he had a new attorney appointed for the wife in the case whom Brown was representing.
That attorney, Gary Freed of Atlanta, later filed a motion asking Edwards to recuse himself from the case, further delaying the trial. Edwards was hoping to try the case to avoid such a delay as the guardian ad litem for the couple’s two children had suggested.