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High-Asset Divorce at Core of Fayette County Judges' Resignations

The Fayette County Superior Court has been rocked recently by allegations of judicial misconduct that have led to the resignations of two judges: Chief Judge Paschal A. English, Jr. and Judge Johnnie L. Caldwell Jr. Many of the allegations were made public after complaints of sexual harassment and conflict of interest in the high-asset divorce case of Crook v. Crook.

Attorney Susan Brown, who represents the wife in the case, made complaints both to English and to Judge Christopher C. Edwards about Caldwell's behavior. Last year, she reported that Judge Caldwell had repeatedly made crude sexual comments, and that he made rulings against Ms. Crook based on information not in the record. She had also learned that Caldwell worked closely with the husband's lawyer, Alan Connell, in their roles on the board of directors of Central Georgia Bank in Thomaston.

Brown's complaint about Caldwell to Chief Judge English brought no action. Caldwell moved off the Crook v. Crook divorce case last summer and was replaced by Judge Edwards. In March, Brown reported her concerns to him.

Reporting a Fellow Judge for Misconduct Is a Dicey Proposition

Edwards was conflicted. English had been in charge of the case before Caldwell, making Edwards the third judge handling it. They were running out of judges to hear the highly acrimonious high-asset divorce case. The lawyer representing the interests of the Crooks' children said they were suffering from the inaction in the case, which had carried on for two years.

In this tight-knit community, Edwards admits, it is the "diciest scenario" to report allegations of judicial misconduct against a colleague. Plus, if Brown's allegations were found to be true, "the orders that were entered [by previous judges] would have been improperly entered and should not be enforced."

Judicial ethics requires any judge who receives information that indicates a substantial likelihood of another judge's misconduct to take appropriate action. Ultimately, Edwards decided not to report the allegations.

After the allegations were leaked, Caldwell, who was visited by an investigator from the Judicial Qualifications Commission, admitted that he had been known to make "inappropriate comments" to female lawyers, although he denied doing so from the bench. He resigned on April 19.

The accusations continued to grow. English is alleged to have interfered with the case. Brown and the other attorney from the Crook v. Crook case have called Edwards' actions into question.

Chief Judge English to Be Investigated for Affair With Public Defender

The case continued, but further allegations - this time against Chief Judge English - were about to be made public. Shortly after Susan Brown reported Caldwell's misconduct to Edwards, she was called into a meeting with English, a 23-year veteran judge also known for his stint as "Pappy" on the TV show "Survivor."

In that meeting, Brown mentioned a year-old rumor that English had been engaged in an affair with public defender Kim Cornwell. If that rumor is true, criminal cases Cornwell tried before Judge English could be open to appeal by the defendants.

Investigation to Determine Whether Judiciary's Integrity Compromised

On April 28, Judge Edwards asked District Attorney Scott Ballard and Public Defender Joseph Saia to investigate the allegations that English and Cornwell were having an affair. "We have been asked to look into whether the integrity of the judiciary has been compromised," explained Ballard in an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The investigation won't stop there: Ballard also plans to look into whether Edwards acted improperly when he asked the attorneys and clients in the Crook v. Crook case to agree not to use Caldwell's alleged sexually inappropriate comments as an issue to appeal that case.

Chief Judge English resigned on April 23. Ballard is expected to report the findings of his investigation to a senior judge within a month.

Related Resource:

"Allegations show judiciary system run amok" (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, May 14, 2010)

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