A Peachtree City divorce attorney reluctantly testified under oath Friday how former Superior Court Judge Johnnie L. Caldwell Jr. sexually harassed her on a number of occasions and, once, made an inappropriate physical contact with her.
Attorney Susan Brown’s testimony Friday came as part of a divorce case in which Brown previously represented Janet Bell Crook. Mrs. Crook’s new attorneys are trying to convince Senior Superior Court Judge Grant Brantley that the old rulings in the case should be dismissed because of the bias Caldwell showed against their client because she was represented by Brown.
During a tailgating event at a University of Georgia football game in September 2007, attorney Susan Brown said Caldwell hugged her as he was leaving the area to go towards the stadium. During the hug, she said Judge Caldwell stuck his tongue in her mouth.
“I grabbed him by the shoulders and pushed him back and said, ‘Judge Caldwell, this is not a good idea.’ And he said, ‘You’re probably right,’ and then turned around and walked toward the game,” Brown testified.
Brown said she decided not to report that indiscretion, though later she asked Fayette Chief Judge Paschal A. English in late 2009 to intervene after a client of hers reported inappropriate remarks that Judge Caldwell made about her at a football game.
English, however, declined and suggested Brown take up the matter with Caldwell herself, she testified.
Brown said she sought English’s help “just so the comments would stop,” referring to the ribald remarks made by Caldwell.
“I didn’t want anything to happen to Judge Caldwell. I just wanted the comments to stop,” Brown said.
Brown said though Judge Caldwell had made risque comments to her directly before, the fact that he made such comments about her to a client jolted her.
“My initial reaction was, ‘Oh my god: he might be serious,’” Brown said.
Brown said her client advised her to take action because the client felt the matter was “appalling.” Thus Brown reported the matter to then-Chief Judge English, who took no action.
“He told me that he was sorry but he could not help me, and he told me to go sit down and handle it with Judge Caldwell by myself,” Brown said.
English has also been subpoenaed to testify in the case, but he did not appear as anticipated at Friday’s hearing. According to Mrs. Crook’s new attorney, Gary Freed, Judge English was en route to South Carolina during the hearing, and Judge Brantley several times told Freed he didn’t want to hear about English’s status, as he would have to appear in court at a later date.
Brown has said she never reported Caldwell’s actions to the Georgia Judicial Qualifications Commission and that she never made any official “report” about the problems. However, after a hearing in the Crook case in April, she explained to Superior Court Judge Christopher Edwards that previous remarks she made about unfairness in the case weren’t aimed at him but rather the previous rulings in the case when it was overseen by Judges Caldwell and, for a brief time, English.
Days later, Judge Edwards convened a hearing of the attorneys on both sides and had Brown explain the indiscretions since they may have revealed a potential judicial bias in the case.
Caldwell resigned effective immediately April 18 and days later admitted to making inappropriate remarks to female attorneys. The resignation was tied to an official investigation into Caldwell by the Georgia Judicial Qualifications Commission, though the investigation results have never been made public. Caldwell in his resignation letter agreed never to seek or hold judicial office ever again.
During her testimony, Brown recalled how Judge Caldwell in December 2009 flagged her down in the parking lot of the county Justice Center and asked her in person to go with him on a vacation trip to Montana or Wyoming, she couldn’t remember which. Brown said she told him she couldn’t because she had a jury trial scheduled in Fayette County State Court.
Brown testified that Caldwell asked her to see if she could clear her calendar so she could go on the trip and he wanted Brown call his secretary to let her know. Ultimately it was Judge Caldwell’s secretary who called Brown to see if she was available to make the trip, Brown testified.
“I told her that I had not and that I would not be going on the trip with Judge Caldwell,” Brown said.
She also said Caldwell called her once and asked her to come spend the night with him at his house.
“I told him I had my children and that I couldn’t do that,” Brown said.
Brown also testified that Caldwell urged her, in graphic language, to wear tight pants in his courtroom for his own personal enjoyment.
Brown detailed how she struggled with what to do about Caldwell’s remarks, overtures and actions towards her. She said she ultimately consulted several female attorneys who suggested to her that if she reported Judge Caldwell’s inappropriate actions, she would no longer be able to work as an attorney in the Griffin Circuit.
At one point, after she reported the matter to Judge English, Brown said she considered also reporting it to fellow Superior Court Judge Christopher Edwards. She said she ultimately decided not to based on advice that Edwards would report the matter to a higher authority.
That in turn most surely would have ended Caldwell’s judicial career and in the end it ultimately may have been the fatal blow that caused him to resign.
The divorce case between Greg Crook and Janet Bell Crook has been long-running and in the process has been quite contentious at many turns and has dragged on since April 2008.