The past president of the State Bar of Georgia has agreed to conduct an investigation to determine whether any criminal cases were compromised by an affair between a chief judge in Fayette County and a public defender assigned to his courtroom.
Bryan Cavan, an Atlanta lawyer, will conduct the probe for the Georgia Public Defender Standards Council. There are as many as 450 cases in question, Mack Crawford, director of the defender council, said during a board meeting Friday. "He will look at the situation to see if anyone's rights were compromised," Crawford said.
In April, then-Chief Judge Paschal English abruptly resigned amid revelations he was having an affair with assistant public defender Kim Cornwell. Cornwell has also resigned.
District Attorney Scott Ballard has said his chief investigator did not find any evidence of wrongdoing in English's courtroom. Ballard also has said he did not know when the intimate relationship began, but a sheriff's deputy caught the judge and defender having sex in a parked car in October 2008.
English presided over the Griffin Judicial Circuit, which takes in Fayette, Pike, Spalding and Upson counties. English resigned a week after Johnnie Caldwell, another Superior Court judge, stepped down because he harassed a local female lawyer with crude, sexually suggestive remarks.
Gov. Sonny Perdue recently appointed Crawford, a former lawmaker who has overseen the state defender system since mid-2007, to fill one of the two vacancies on the Griffin bench. Former District Attorney Fletcher Sams will fill the other vacancy.
Also during Friday's meeting, board members heard grim news about the defender agency's budget. Although the agency has $5.3 million to pay for so-called conflict cases for the fiscal year ending June 30, there are projections the cases could cost $8.5 million.
These cases stem from multidefendant indictments in which a local public defender can represent only one person because of conflict-of-interest rules. Typically, private attorneys are hired by the state defender agency to represent the other co-defendants. The statewide system had more than 10,000 conflict cases last year.
Because of the expected budget shortfall, Jim Stokes, the agency's conflict division director, told the board that the agency may be forced to take drastic steps to solve the problem. One such measure would require public defenders in circuit offices to handle conflict cases in neighboring circuits.
Board member Arch McGarity, a Superior Court judge from Henry County, predicted this could clog up court dockets and result in defendants spending more time in jail because public defenders would not be able to cover cases in both circuits simultaneously. "It doesn't meet our constitutional obligations," McGarity said.
"What do you want us to do?" Crawford said before asking the board to approve the plan. "We have no money. We can't sit back and let [the system] crash."
The board did not take action on the proposal.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.