Review of 28 of disgraced judge's cases finds no bias, impairment

Revelations of the crimes stunned the legal community and made national news: a longtime federal judge caught using drugs with a stripper and accompanying her to a drug deal with a pistol that was cocked and loaded.

But as the investigation of Jack Camp unfolded, federal prosecutors also became deeply unsettled by statements made by witnesses in the case, so much so the U.S. Attorney's Office undertook an unprecedented investigation to determine whether Camp's decisions as a judge were infected by racial bias or any kind of mental impairment.

Prosecutors' just-completed probe of the cases of 28 defendants who requested another look found no evidence that sentences imposed or rulings issued by Camp were tainted by racial bias or affected by drugs or any other mental impairment, U.S. Attorney Sally Yates said this week.

"Today, the U.S. attorney has publicly confirmed what I never doubted throughout this ordeal," Camp said Thursday in an emailed statement. "I am pleased the report vindicates that my decisions were fair, impartial and true to the law."

Still, Yates said, her office has allowed another 11 defendants who had cases before Camp during the four months in 2010 prosecutors said Camp was using drugs to have their cases considered anew by other judges as well as a 12th whose case was heard earlier but was discussed by Camp during that time. Five received reduced sentences, and the rest, except for one that is still pending, received the same level of punishment.

"We were willing to do all we could to re-instill confidence in the justice system and to show the public that all defendants are being treated fairly," Yates said. "We weren't legally required to do this. But we felt it was the right thing to do -- to ensure that every defendant had the right to be heard by an impartial judge who was not laboring under bias or any other impairment."

Any of the 28 convicts who is dissatisfied with the outcome may pursue further litigation to challenge it.

Camp, the former chief judge of the U.S. District Court bench in Atlanta, was arrested in an undercover FBI sting on Oct. 1, 2010. He resigned from the bench and pleaded guilty to drug charges and giving the stripper his government-issued laptop computer. He was sentenced to 30 days in prison, which he has served.

Camp, now 68, met the 27-year-old stripper at the Goldrush Showbar in May 2010 when she performed a table dance for him. He was soon paying her for sex, and together they began smoking marijuana and snorting cocaine and a synthetic form of heroin, prosecutors said. The woman received immunity for her cooperation with the investigation.

After Camp pleaded guilty in November 2010, Yates made other startling disclosures. One witness told authorities that Camp used a racial epithet during a contentious telephone conversation. Yates also revealed that the stripper had said that Camp, after learning the dancer had an African-American boyfriend, told her he disliked her boyfriend and was having a difficult time imposing sentences against black defendants because he could not differentiate them from her boyfriend.

When federal prosecutors confronted Camp about those allegations, he denied making any such statements.

But Yates said she decided a full review was warranted. Not only did she allow 11 defendants who had cases before Camp during the time prosecutors said he was using drugs to have their cases reconsidered, the office also notified all defendants who had appeared before Camp during his 22 years on the bench and let them, if they so desired, request an investigation as to whether their cases were tainted by possible racial bias or impairment.

"There's no playbook for this," Yates said. "But we felt there wasn't anything we were doing that was more important than this. ... We wanted to be sure the proceedings were fair."

After receiving 28 requests, Yates said, she assigned a "diverse group" of two dozen federal prosecutors to review all motions, hearings and trial transcripts in those cases. Prosecutors looked for "smart-aleck remarks," "rulings that looked squirrelly" or "anything that seemed out of whack," she said. "We were looking for a pattern of possible conduct."

Former federal prosecutor and now defense attorney Wilmer "Buddy" Parker said the route Yates took is fair, especially considering that "the entire Jack Camp prosecution was so extraordinary [in that] it didn’t involve any aspect of corruption ... there are no guidelines of how the U.S. Attorney's Office should deal with the issue except to do what they did."

When all was said and done, Yates said, "We didn't find any evidence of racial bias or any impairment from drugs or any other mental condition."

For this reason, all requests from the 28 convicts for new hearings were rejected, Yates said.

Camp said, "Just as drug tests by the government had already shown no controlled substances, the report further confirms the fact that my work as a judge was never affected by drugs."

Though some defendants from the four-month period in 2010 will get out of federal prison earlier than initially expected, others were not so fortunate. In August 2010, Camp sentenced Mark Anthony McBride to 170 months in prison for a mortgage and bankruptcy fraud scheme he committed while on probation. Camp tacked on another two years in prison for probation violations.

When McBride got his second chance in September 2011, U.S. District Judge Timothy Batten said "it's just unbelievable to me" that Camp had not imposed more severe punishment, noting McBride had caused 30 victims to lose almost $2.2 million.

Still, Batten kept the sentence as Camp imposed it.

Sentences reduced

The U.S. Attorney’s Office allowed 11 defendants who had cases before then-Judge Jack Camp during a period in 2010 prosecutors said he was using drugs to have their cases considered anew by other judges. (The group included a 12th defendant for another reason.) Five defendants received reduced sentences.

Kenneth Harvey was part of a conspiracy to secure loans on high-end cars from his business with fake information. Camp sentenced him to 46 months in prison. In February 2011, Judge Orinda Evans gave Harvey credit for cooperating in the case and sentenced him to 33 months.

Olivero Montoya-Alcantar was here illegally when he was charged with making false IDs. He pleaded guilty to two of the counts, and Camp sentenced him on May 25, 2010, to 21 months in prison for one charge and two years for the other, to be served concurrently. U.S. District Judge Timothy Batten reduced the sentence for one count from 21 months to 15 months in prison. However, the total prison time is unchanged.

Richard Williams pleaded guilty to using false identification to open a line of credit at the Associated Credit Union and to secure a credit card from Wells Fargo Financial, drawing almost $14,000 from those two accounts. Camp sentenced Williams to 7 1/2 years in prison. Judge Willis Hunt later reduced his sentence to 70 months in prison.

Harold Wardlaw pleaded guilty in a $1 million check theft and identity fraud scheme, but he insisted he was lured into the scheme. Camp sentenced Wardlaw to 12 years and a month in prison. The Court of Appeals said he should be resentenced. U.S. District Judge J. Owen Forrester sentenced him to 10 years in prison. Wardlaw is appealing that sentence as well.

Former pro wrestler Harrison "Hardbody" Norris Jr. was sentenced to life in prison after he was convicted in 2008 on 24 counts of forced labor, sex trafficking and peonage. After Camp's problems became public, Norris wrote on his own behalf to question Camp's handling of his case. Judge J. Owen Forrester resentenced him last Dec. 14, to 35 years in prison. Prosecutors included Norris' case because Camp referred to Norris in a conversation with a prostitute.

-- Rhonda Cook