State and local officials for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People have been asked to investigate whether multiple defendants had their legal rights jeopardized because of a sexual affair that took place between now-retired Superior Court Judge Paschal A. English Jr. and Public Defender Attorney Kim Cornwell.
In a news release, Fayette NAACP President John E. Jones said an independent attorney should review each of the more than 200 criminal defendants who were represented by Cornwell in front of Judge English after the couple’s sexual affair was documented Oct. 13, 2008 when a sheriff’s deputy spied them in the midst of a sexual act inside a parked car in a subdivision on the outskirts of Fayetteville.
All 220-plus cases were reviewed in a joint investigation between the offices of Fayette County District Attorney Scott Ballard and county Public Defender Joe Saia. Ballard and Saia said in a news conference last month said they turned up no improprieties; however both English and Cornwell declined to cooperate with the investigation.
“Each of the individual defendants, regardless of color, need to be notified of their rights to have their cases reviewed by independent legal counsel,” Jones said. “We do not believe the public defender’s office is capable of this task as they are tainted in this entire affair.”
The investigation into the affair was ordered by Fayette Superior Court Judge Christopher C. Edwards, who told Ballard and Saia he wanted the results presented to another superior court judge so he would not be involved in the process.
The investigation determined that English was “steering” Cornwell’s cases to his court.
The remaining results of the investigation, however, have left many questions unanswered, according to local NAACP President Jones.
“Was she slighting her clients to keep personal favor with the judge? When did the relationship begin and how many defendants did she actually represent before Judge English while simultaneously carrying on an affair with him?” Jones said. “None of these questions have been answered by Mr. Ballard’s investigation.”
Jones also chides the public defender’s office for failing to act on an anonymous letter filed more than a year ago that claimed Cornwell was having an affair with English. He was also critical of the fact that county law enforcement officials including the sheriff’s department “were aware of the English/Cornwell sexual relationship and his information was apparently kept secret from the public for almost two years.”
English resigned Friday, April 23, citing a need for him and his family “to concentrate on a different direction in our lives.” That resignation was the second stunning courthouse development of that week, which began with Monday’s surprise resignation of Superior Court Judge Johnnie L. Caldwell Jr., who later publicly admitted to making inappropriate remarks to female attorneys.
English was subpoenaed to testify several weeks ago in a Fayette County divorce case but he will be allowed to meet that obligation at a later date, according to an informal ruling from visiting senior Superior Court Judge G. Grant Brantley. Attorneys representing the wife in the divorce proceedings want English’s testimony to support their contention that all the previous rulings in the case were unfair and should be thrown out.