Trial begins in Waffle House chairman’s sex tape case

Mye Brindle and her attorneys, David Cohen and John Butters.

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Mye Brindle and her attorneys, David Cohen and John Butters.

A housekeeper for the former CEO of Waffle House and her two lawyers are once again facing a judge over accusations they secretly recorded a sex tape of the executive — the latest development in a case that has spent the last six years tied up in the courts.

Testimony began Tuesday in the case of Mye Brindle, a former housekeeper for Waffle House chairman Joe Rogers Jr., and her two attorneys, John Butters and David Cohen. The three defendants are facing charges of unlawful eavesdropping over allegations they made a secret video recording of Brindle performing a sexual act on Rogers in his bedroom without his knowledge.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Henry Newkirk is once again presiding over the case after throwing it out last year, a decision that was overturned by the Georgia Supreme Court in November. The high court’s decision to reinstate the indictment is the most recent complication in a lengthy court process that has become a tangled web of lawsuits, counter-lawsuits and appeals.

Prosecutors said the video, which they indicated will be shown to the jury, depicts a nude Rogers shaving himself in his bathroom after getting out of the shower. Brindle, who was recording Rogers on a camera disguised as a cell phone, then has a conversation with Rogers and gives him a massage that ends with a sexual act.

Related: Charges reinstated in Waffle House sex tape case

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And: Judge criticizes lawyers in Waffle House chairman’s sex-tape case

The video was recorded a few weeks after Brindle retained Cohen and Butters as legal counsel, and was the subject of a letter Cohen sent to Rogers in 2012, which encouraged Rogers to pay Brindle $12 million to resolve sexual harassment allegations she’d made against him. Failure to pay the requested amount could lead to media attention and criminal charges, the letter said.

Brindle stopped attending work shortly after the video was recorded.

Fran Rogers, Joe Rogers’ wife, has denied the allegations against her husband.

On the stand Tuesday, Fran Rogers was in tears as she described finding a resignation note from Brindle in her husband’s sock drawer weeks later. In the note, Brindle wrote, “I can no longer bear the pain, humiliation and damage to my well-being from what you have demanded and required of me in this position.”

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Joe Rogers Jr. (File)

Joe Rogers Jr. (File)

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Joe Rogers Jr. (File)

Brindle filed a civil suit against Rogers that’s still pending in Cobb County, and Rogers later countersued to have the video kept private. Cobb County Superior Court Judge Robert Leonard, who later recused himself from the case, disqualified Cohen and Rogers from serving as Brindle’s counsel in the civil suit due to their involvement in the creation of the video.

The prosecution’s argument rests largely on whether Brindle, who engaged in sexual acts with Rogers for most of the nine years she was employed by him, consented to the contact. Prosecuting attorney Melissa Redmon said Brindle routinely gave Rogers massages that would end with sexual favors.

“What you won’t see on the camera is any threats, any coercion,” Redmon said.

Reid Thompson, Brindle’s defense attorney, gave the jury a much different picture, presenting his 49-year-old client as a vulnerable, working-class single mother who feared refusing sexual contact with Rogers would cost her her job. The jury of 12 and 2 alternates is made up of ten women and four men.

“He required her to perform sexual acts on him — not with him, on him,” said Thompson. “She had a decision to make, that’s true — the same decision, unfortunately, too many women have to make: Do what the boss requires you to do or start looking for another job.”

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The defense claims Brindle was justified in recording the video as evidence she would later use to sue Rogers for sexual harassment. Thompson has sought to paint his client’s indictment as evidence of a wealthy man abusing his power. Rogers has not been charged with a crime in this case.

“If you’re wondering why it is that Mye Brindle and the two attorneys who tried to help her … why they’re the ones arrested, remember Joe Rogers is an extremely wealthy, extremely powerful and extremely well-connected man,” Thompson said.

Brian Steele, a defense attorney for David Cohen, also argued that the laws surrounding unlawful surveillance apply only to places where people who are not members of the victim’s household are present. So by allowing the housekeeper into his home, Steele said, Rogers no longer could claim the expectation of privacy in his bedroom.

“He removes the public shield,” Steele said. “It becomes a public place.”

Thomas Hawkins, the president of the private investigation firm Hawk Professional Investigation, said Cohen and Butters approached him about secretly documenting a sexual abuser, but his firm refused to take the case.

“They had mentioned that the recording was going to be taking place in a private residence, and I did not think that would be something that would be legal to do,” Hawkins said.

Hawkins noted his firm had been asked to record video in private homes many times over the years, and had refused to do it every time. While Hawkins said his firm didn’t take on Cohen and Butter’s case, it did order the camera Brindle would use to record Rogers and showed her how to use it.

The trial will resume Wednesday. Come back to for more coverage.