A Fulton County grand jury indicted two attorneys and the former personal assistant of Waffle House’s chairman on Friday, charging the three with trying to extort money from the executive after his assistant secretly taped an intimate encounter with him.
The charges against Mye Brindle and attorneys David Cohen and John Butters mark the latest chapter in a bitterly contested legal battle that’s seen the onus shift away Waffle House chairman and former CEO Joe Rogers Jr., accused of sexual harassment, and on to his accusers.
“Today’s indictment sends a chilling message to victims of sexual abuse and those who seek to help them attain justice,” said Brian Robinson, spokesman for Brindle’s counsel. “The two attorneys indicted zealously represented their client, a victim of serial sexual abuse by her employer, Joe Rogers.”
Brindle, Cohen and Butters were charged with conspiracy to commit extortion, conspiracy to commit unlawful eavesdropping or surveillance and unlawful eavesdropping or surveillance. It is a felony in Georgia to videotape the activities of another person in a private place without the consent of all parties involved.
Cohen, in a previous statement, noted a federal court judge in Atlanta had ruled that the consent of only one participant — not both — is necessary for a video recording under state law. The federal appeals court in Atlanta upheld that decision in 2001, he said.
The criminal charges stem from a letter Cohen sent in July 2012 to Rogers encouraging him to resolve sexual harassment allegations. Failure to do so could result in media attention, criminal charges, divorce and the destruction of families, the letter said.
Rogers and his attorneys responded with a lawsuit filed in Cobb County, where Brindle lived, that sought to prevent the dissemination of the recordings of any sexual encounters between Rogers and his former assistant.
One day later, in September 2012, Cohen filed suit on Brindle’s behalf in Fulton, where Rogers lives, alleging his client “made audio and video recordings of some of the incidents of sexual harassment and battery including the sexual battery at the Sea Island home.”
That suit forced Rogers to publicly address the allegations against him. He acknowledged having “infrequent sexual encounters” with Brindle but denied sexually harassing her.
In a statement, Rogers hailed the indictment as “the next step in holding those involved accountable for their criminal actions.”
“They have attempted to use the legal system to cover their tracks and follow through on their threats of ‘media attention,’ ‘injurious publicity’ and ‘protracted litigation,’ ” Rogers said. “My family and I, regardless of the threat of ‘divorce and destruction of families,’ stand together and look forward to justice being served on both civil and criminal fronts.”
In March, Fulton County State Court Judge Eric Richardson ordered Cohen to pay $198,383 in legal fees for filing unnecessary litigation in the Rogers case. The Waffle House executive should not have had to secure legal representation to defend litigation intended to harass him with threats of disclosing sexual misconduct allegations, the judge said.
“The record is replete with evidence showing that Cohen’s ultimate purpose was to harass Rogers with threats of disclosure and actual disclosure of Brindle’s sexual misconduct allegations, ” Richardson wrote.
Robinson, speaking on behalf of Brindle’s lawyers, said Rogers is trying to silence his accuser by smearing her legal counsel.
“This precedent should alarm all attorneys representing the powerless who are sexually abused at the hands of the powerful,” Robinson said. “The legal system will find these charges are false, but the repercussions of this prosecution will echo far beyond this case.”