Judge investigated for pre-signing warrants

The investigation of Chief Magistrate Bryant Cochran of Murray County is being carried out by the state Judicial Qualifications Commission, District Attorney Bert Poston said.

"It's a very serious allegation," said Poston, who oversees Murray and Whitfield counties. He said he will wait until the judicial watchdog agency completes its investigation before deciding whether to look into the issue himself or ask the state Attorney General's Office to do so.

Rossville attorney Christopher Townley, who represents Cochran, said, "With the investigation going on, I need to do further investigation myself to learn the details. If the Public Defender's Office thinks there are a lot of illegal warrants out there in Murray County, they're going to be greatly disappointed."

Jeff Davis, director of the Judicial Qualifications Commission, said he could neither confirm nor deny whether his agency is investigating Cochran.

When seeking a warrant, a law enforcement officer is first sworn in by the judge. The officer then lays out a case to justify an arrest. If the judge finds probable cause, the warrant, once signed, can be served on a suspect and used to take him or her into custody.

Atlanta criminal defense attorney Don Samuel said it would be "unconscionable" for a judge or a law enforcement officer to bypass those steps.

"If true, if a judge is pre-signing warrants thereby allowing police to arrest someone under the authority of a supposedly lawful order, it's hard to imagine something more corrupt," Samuel said. "Anyone who participated in such a practice and anyone who acquiesced to it should be in jail."

Mike McCarthy, the circuit public defender for Murray County, said he was aware of the investigation and said his defenders will be notifying their clients of the allegations.

"It could affect several cases, if true," McCarthy said. "If an arrest warrant was void, it could have a bearing on whether the prosecution itself is tainted."

This week, Angela Garmley told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Cochran asked her to be his mistress when she appeared before him in April. Garmley, of Chatsworth, said she went to the judge after three of her former tenants assaulted her.

While in Cochran's office, Garmley said, the judge said he wanted to have a mistress he could trust. Her lawyer, McCracken Poston, who is not related to the district attorney, said Garmley is cooperating with a state judicial investigation.

In a prior interview, Cochran denied propositioning Garmley, saying "the truth will come out."

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