DA probe leaves big questions unanswered

From left, DA investigator Jeff Turner, Chief Public Defender Joe Saia, and Griffin Judicial Circuit District Attorney Scott Ballard during a June 11 news conference. Photo/Ben Nelms.

DA focused on narrow range of criminal cases involving potential conflicts of interest after Judge English and public defender Cornwell were caught in a sexual act, but none before the tryst; tape disputes investigator’s allegation of revenge by Judge Edwards

Former Chief Superior Court Judge Paschal A. English, just weeks before he was caught in a sexual act with public defender Kim Cornwell, was “steering” Cornwell’s criminal cases to his courtroom in September 2009, according to an investigation undertaken by the Fayette County District Attorney’s Office.

According to the DA’s report, Judge English was directing Cornwell’s cases to be heard in his courtroom during calendar call Sept. 22, a fact confirmed both by fellow judge Christopher Edwards and also by several assistant district attorneys.

Other evidence in the investigation indicates the English-Cornwell affair may have been underway a year ago or longer. A letter alleging the affair was active had been filed with state officials at least a year ago, according to Fayette County Public Defender Joe Saia, Cornwell’s boss, speaking in a recording of an “off the record” conversation that was later made available to The Citizen under Georgia’s open records law.

Cornwell at the time denied the allegation, saying she and English were “just good friends.” The exact date of the letter is unknown and Saia said he never actually saw the letter but he got a phone call inquiring about the matter.

Despite those indications of a major potential judicial conflict, the DA’s investigation pointedly declined to review any cases prior to Oct. 13, 2008 [CORRECTED from 2009], the date on which the sheriff’s deputy discovered English and Cornwell engaged in a sexual act while they were in a parked car in an under-construction subdivision on the outskirts of Fayetteville.

In a press conference Friday, Fayette County District Attorney Scott Ballard said the investigation’s review of criminal cases was limited only to those which occurred immediately after the English-Cornwell affair was confirmed by the sheriff’s deputy.

It could be argued, however, that such an investigation should have focused on cases in the weeks and perhaps months leading up to the date English and Cornwell were discovered by the deputy, on the theory that improper judicial conduct between the two may have been occurring prior to that date.

Should the investigation have determined that extra-judicial conduct had occurred, there remains a potential that tens, if not hundreds, of the cases would potentially need to be retried in court.

Ballard said Friday that existing law requires judges to recuse themselves when they have a personal relationship with an attorney involved in the case.

Ballard did not return several phone calls Tuesday seeking comment on this story. He declared his office’s interest in the issue closed with the release of the report June 11 to news reporters.

The English-Cornwell affair may have been going on well over a year ago, depending on the veracity of a letter alleging the affair which was sent to the Georgia Public Defender Standards Council more than a year ago. That letter was mentioned in an off-the-record but recorded conversation in early April between Saia, Ballard and Superior Court judges Tommy Hankinson and Christopher Edwards.

According to the recording of that conversation, Chief Public Defender Saia said he asked Cornwell about the allegation at the time and she denied it. He said Cornwell told him that she and Judge English were good friends, and that the judge was interested in her husband’s line of work as an attorney who deals with professional athletes as clients.

Saia recalled that he was informed about the letter at least a year ago, if not more.

Despite the investigation’s failure to review cases immediately predating the confirmation of the Judge English-attorney Cornwell affair, and the potential of the affair to have been going on for well over a year, District Attorney Ballard and Saia pronounced Friday that the investigation showed no defendants were prejudiced by the relationship.

Ballard further said that he found no indication that the state was prejudiced by the judge-attorney relationship either.

If the investigation goes no further, the public — and defendants who may have been harmed — may never know for certain whether the outcomes of any criminal cases were tainted by the extra-judicial contact between the judge and the state-paid public defender that may have occurred prior to their being caught by the deputy.

The investigation into the English-Caldwell affair began April 28 after Superior Court Judges Christopher C. Edwards and Tommy R. Hankinson summoned District Attorney Ballard and Chief Public Defender Saia to a meeting in chambers.

In a released recording of the “off the record” portion of that conversation, Edwards outlined the ramifications of any potential extra-judicial relationship between a judge and a defense attorney.

“There’s two possibilities. One is: there are people who ought to be in jail who aren’t,” Edwards said. “The other is: there are people in prison who shouldn’t be.”

Later in the recording, Judge Hankinson refers to the alleged affair as “a big mess.” He noted that English’s court rulings could have been affected by the couple’s relationship, if, for example, the couple had a fight the night before.

“It’s a failure to disclose, and you’re having an affair and what are they talking about then? ... It just stinks. You can’t explain it away.”

Edwards explained that the affair allegations came to his attention in a meeting in English’s chambers April 12 with Peachtree City divorce attorney Susan Brown. Then-Chief Judge English asked Edwards to send Brown his way, and English also asked Edwards to attend the in-chambers meeting.

In the meeting, Judge English asked Brown about a letter one of her clients had written to him which made an accusation about the judge which the client attributed to Brown, Edwards said.

Brown denied making the remark cited in the letter, but soon after she said rumors were flying all over the judicial circuit that English was having affairs including one with defense attorney Kim Cornwell, Edwards recalled.

Edwards noted that Judge English did not deny the affair.

Following that meeting, Edwards said he and Judge Hankinson began legal research to determine the next course of action.

Judge Hankinson, on the recording, reminded Ballard and Saia that the decision on Edwards’ part to share the information about the alleged extra-judicial affair was a difficult one.

“I hope you all appreciate the predicament that Chris has been put in,” Hankinson said. “He has suffered with this burden and struggled to get us to this point. You feel like you’re Brutus with the unkindest cut of all.”

Edwards, earlier in the recording, alluded to the moral and ethical dilemma he was in.

“I am not telling you, ah, that it is my fondest hope that Paschal English hates me for the rest of his life for doing what I’m doing. But I cannot imagine or pretend that I don’t have the duty to have you here and tell you about this when it was right in front of me, right there, okay?” Edwards said.

DA investigator Jeff Turner apparently heard that recorded statement differently. According to Turner’s written statement Friday, he accused Edwards of making a “vengeful” statement about English.

“Scott, both you and I have now listened to the non-transcribed, but recorded meeting. We have both verified that Judge Edwards did make the statement that ‘my fondest hope is that Paschal English hates me for the rest of his life.’ ... I find this comment to be disturbing, especially since Judge English had already submitted his resignation. I agree that trust should be restored in the circuit, and that if any courtroom improprieties occurred that they should be brought to light, but this comment seemed to be a bit vengeful. I base this on listening to the entire tape.”

Reporters from The Citizen who listened to the same tape heard Edwards say this crucial preface: “I am NOT telling you, ah, that it is my fondest hope that Paschal English hates me for the rest of his life for doing what I’m doing ...” [Emphasis added by The Citizen.]

That complete statement from Edwards — indicating that Edwards had no wish to offend English — suggests feelings completely different than the revenge motive alleged by the DA’s investigator and DA Ballard.

On the recording, Ballard suggested that defendants who felt wronged by the extra-judicial relationship between Judge English and attorney Cornwell could be dealt with on a case-by-case basis if any habeas corpus petitions were ever filed.

“How are they ever going to find out about that, Scott?” Judge Hankinson asked the district attorney.

“Well, I don’t know there’s anything to find out,” Ballard replied, apparently referencing the fact that the English-Cornwell relationship was mere rumor at that point.

Later in the conversation, Ballard urged the judicial system should be “careful not to overreact” though he was aware of the need to rebuild the public’s confidence in the system.

“I just think the way we do it needs to be with a mind towards not making things worse, and not overreacting,” Ballard said.

Neither Cornwell nor English would speak about the matter to an investigator for the district attorney’s office, officials confirmed.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The previous story, complete with statements from Ballard, Saia and Turner is here.

lifeinptc
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If Git Real was still on this site he would remind us of

Scott Ballard driving all the way to South Georgia to personally attest to the character of a convicted child molestor/predator to get him released from prison on parole to return to Fayette County only to continue to stalk young girls.

AnonRegisteredVoter
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Yep

The day I heard about that, I made the decision to never support Ballard ever again. I am so glad he didn't make the final list of nominations to replace the former Judges. How anyone, much less a DA, can support a child rapist and help him regain his kiddie rape lifestyle is beyond me. The Edgar Frye case; Caldwell lost me then. To me, there was no better place to draw the line in the sand. There is a huge cloud of sexual misconduct hovering over a lot of powerful people and it seems those who can do something about it have turned a blind eye until now. No other papers are reporting anything beyond the press statements released by each person involved. Not one word so far. I hope the news guys win an award for their courageous coverage. You reap what you sow.

CCYourLove1
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'I am NOT telling you'

"Reporters from The Citizen who listened to the same tape heard Edwards say this crucial preface: “I am NOT telling you, ah, that it is my fondest hope that Paschal English hates me for the rest of his life for doing what I’m doing ...” [Emphasis added by The Citizen.]"

It seems strange that DA Ballard, his investigator Turner, and the other News sources heard different from The Citizen.

It is a simple matter to determine credibility....
Why not upload the audio and let the listeners decide who got it right?

We all deserve the truth.

Cal Beverly
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Check my column to listen to or download the files
lifeinptc
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The smart move was uploading the audio for everyone to judge.

It was, unfortunately, Scott Ballard's worst case scenario. To add ignorance upon ignorance Scott had gone to another paper and tried to add more icing to hide the burnt roll. That may have muddied the waters had the citizen not inserted clarity to the situation with the tape itself.

Scott, I don't say this with a callous heart. I know you have a long family history with the law. I know you don't want to leave Office with a stain on your service but the koolaide has spilled and the stain is there. Your investigator may have created a problem for you while you were preparing other cases, but it was your responsibility to make sure solid information came form your office and it did not.

Resignation by you now will begin the healing process this Circuit needs. Once you work through the emotion I think you're smart enough to get that.

Henrietta Bui
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Ballard Responds in the Fayette County News
DM_87
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Are we surprised?

None of this is news to me. I found out about the real Scott Ballard awhile ago during a couple of unfortunate situations that forced me to learn more about him than I ever really desired to do. The man is a POLITICIAN--plain and simple. Justice matters little when compared to where he stands with the people that will move him higher up the political ladder. Just read the slimy propaganda that he has published in the Fayette Daily News. It's sickening. I'm glad that people are beginning to see this in him.

The good thing is--this is still America! And we as citizens of this district have the ability to make it clear that we the people value JUSTICE and not POWER. We have the ability to vote this man out when it comes time. I only hope that we all remember how dirty he is when it comes.

mbest
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Horribly incompetent investigator.

Any investigation Jeff Turner did now has lost all of its credibility. To totally change the meaning of that tape taints anything else he did in this investigation. What is his background?

lifeinptc
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Ballard is going to have to resign over this.

Miss-information was disseminated from his office which cast a bad light on who is now our Chief Superior Court Judge. Since Scott's press release was designed to cast a disparaging light on a Superior Court Judge, Scott had the responsibilty to check the facts, listen to the tape, make sure his man was right. The buck stops with him and he should not pass it. Somebody's head has to roll over this.

positivelysouth...
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Why was the tape not easily given then?

Jeff Turner stated:

"You are aware that we have asked for these tapes several times from Judge Edwards’ office, following his instructions on how to go about getting them. It seems that we have been blocked at each turn.

I find this disturbing since the purpose of this investigation was to get things into the open and restore trust in the Griffin Judicial Circuit.

What I find more disturbing was a comment that was made by Judge Edwards, that has been verified by you, Joe Saia, and Allen Adams. This comment, not knowing the exact words at this time, was something to the effect of Judge Edwards saying that he hoped, “Judge English hated him for the rest of his life,” or something close to that.

As I type this, I have just received a phone call from you, with you informing me that you have received a CD from court reporter Darryl Brooks, a CD which contains the conversation of the non-transcribed portion of the meeting."

Just as many people (gov't officials, not newspaper reporters) heard it completely differently. I think you should take a listen for yourself~

lifeinptc
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I agree the audio should be uploaded, also a photo of Cornwell

We have seen everyone's photo but Kim Cornwell. She is a government paid employee. This was during the day so she was on our dime while she did what she did. Why is her picture not shown like everyone else's?

AnonRegisteredVoter
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I bet it's because no one

I bet it's because no one wants to be accused of throwing the race card.

AtHomeGym
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Another question: Just how long can Cornwell

be on Leave WITH PAY before some other action is taken?

AnonRegisteredVoter
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Not sure but

Not sure but I would think until the investigation is completed. If she has not been reinstated, resigned or fired, my opinion would be that the investigation is still ongoing. But, like I said, I don't know.

Spear Road Guy
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You Know What - Vote All The Judges and DA Out Too!!!

It's just time to clean house.

mbest
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Spear Road guy, asking for ALL of the Judges to be thrown out

because of the conduct of two is just ignorant. It's America. You judge each person, in this case each judge, on a case by case basis. Calling for all of the judges to be thrown out is a knee jerk reaction that is not well thought out.

positivelysouth...
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Daytime soaps

I think we are all being "punked"...

SPQR
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days of their lives

Is this real? The whole thing sounds like a daytime TV script to me

higuy
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Barnie Fife as a mentor

This guy, Jeff Turner, must have had Barnie Fife as his mentor in investigations. Judge Edwards was trying to do the honest and very difficult task of dealing with this sack of you know what that landed in his lap. Instead of listening to the tape, Turner must have asked his secretary or fishing buddy what it said. Either that or else he maliciously changed Judge Edwards' benign humble statement into a malicious one. He needs to make a public apology to Judge Edwards for this obvious mischaracterization of this excellent judge.
As for Ballard, is goin' fishin' so important that he will ignore the implications of having the judge in a relationship with all those defendants' attorney? I can't wait until some national news show gets a hold of this story. Ballard will be famous then. After that he should have all the time in the world to go fishin'.

flitecrew
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Poor Barney Fife

lol@Barney Fife.....that is a terrible thing to say about Barney. I think, even Barney could have figured this one out.

"I can't wait until some national news show gets a hold of this story. Ballard will be famous then."

Is this guy good enough? http://abcnews.go.com/Primetime/story?id=128494

techy85
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Ballard needs to be investigated, plain and simple

Are we supposed to believe anything Ballard says? It sounds to me like he's getting a little revenge on Edwards for what he has done to English with the investigative probe. Why is Ballard protecting English? IF ENGLISH HAD NEVER USED HIS OWN INVESTIGATIVE PROBE ON CORNWELL, this would never have happened!

AnonRegisteredVoter
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hmmm

Dang. Ballard really does want this mess to go away. It makes me think he has some unsavory things in his closet.

NUK_1
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Great job, DA Investigator Turner!

Reporters from The Citizen who listened to the same tape heard Edwards say this crucial preface: “I am NOT telling you, ah, that it is my fondest hope that Paschal English hates me for the rest of his life for doing what I’m doing ...” [Emphasis added by The Citizen.]

Way to go Turner.......some solid work there. As if it wasn't sordid enough, it's rather obvious that this bozo put in charge on investigating is either totally stupid or simply hates Edwards. Neither of these character faults help any investigation in a positive way.

OK, who is going to now investigate why someone like Turner was investigating anything himself?

ifuwantthetruth
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Judge Edwards

Great job Mr. Mumford, you have really put a twist on the recording of Judge Edwards. Let the people who want to know the truth listen themselves. I think they will come to the same conclusion as DA Investigator Turner. No emphasis is needed to determine what the Good Judge actually said. Let the tape speak for itself. Don't condemn the good work of others until you know the TRUTH.

NUK_1
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Just heard the audio

I also heard the careers of two very pathetic and terribly dishonest individuals in Ballard and Turner coming to an end. I agree with Cal....time to bring in the big guns because how Ballard and Turner could ever come remotely to the conclusion they made about "vengeful statements" clearly indicates they are lying, and now the reason is WHY.

bringinabroom
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Yup...Ballard's done gone

Yup...Ballard's done gone home to supper...All over and done with this crisis and to hell with the Constitution.

And we elected this guy....

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