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Investigation ordered into rumor of judicial affair

An investigation is underway about a potentially “improper intimate relationship” between recently resigned Chief Superior Court Judge Paschal A. English Jr. and defense attorney Kim Cornwell of the Fayette County Public Defender’s Office, The Citizen has confirmed.

The probe was ordered Wednesday by English’s successor as Chief Judge of the Griffin Judicial Circuit, Christopher C. Edwards, according to Chief Public Defender Joe Saia and District Attorney Scott Ballard.

Saia and Ballard are conducting the investigation and have been ordered to report their findings to the court at a later date. Ballard said his office will be working to determine if such a relationship existed between Judge English and Cornwell.

If such a relationship is substantiated, Ballard said, an independent agency with more investigative capabilities will likely be summoned for help such as the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

Ballard said the GBI has been hit hard by budget cuts so he won’t hand the case to them unless there are more facts than the rumors that have been reported so far.

The order from Judge Edwards spurring the investigation came Wednesday, less than five days after English stepped down from the bench in a stunningly unexpected development. The investigation order came two days before English’s last day on the bench, which was Friday, April 30.

Four days prior to English's resignation, fellow Superior Court Judge Johnnie L. Caldwell Jr., who later admitted to making “inappropriate remarks” to female attorneys.

Saia said his office has conducted a detailed review comparing Cornwell’s cases appearing before Judge English to those of the other two public defenders in the office, and there was no discernible difference in the way any of the clients were treated in the cases.

After the investigation was ordered by Judge Edwards, Saia decided to place Cornwell on administrative leave pending the outcome, Saia said.

“My major concern was if the relationship affected her representation of her clients,” Saia said. The review, however, “showed no favoritism for Kim’s clients and no punishment” for the other clients not represented by Cornwell, Saia added.

“They were treated pretty much equally,” Saia said. “I talked to the other two lawyers and they’d never seen anything to indicate there was ever any unfair treatment or ‘more than fair’ treatment.”

Ballard said his general observation up to this date has been that there is no way any of Cornwell’s cases would have been improperly influenced by English.

“But we’ll look into it as he (Judge Edwards) directed us to and to see what turns up,” Ballard said.

If there was some sort of personal relationship between English and Cornwell, it would be suspect that English would not have recused himself from cases involving Cornwell, who has been the lead public defender on several high-profile cases in the past several years.

Ballard said he was determined not to let the investigation deter his office from continuing to effectively prosecute criminal cases.

The investigation is a “terrible situation” not just for the allegations themselves but also for the two families involved, Saia said. He also had nothing but nice things to say about Cornwell’s dedication to her job.

“She’s loyal and dedicated. Her clients love her and I said that on the record to Judge Edwards and Judge Hankinson. And they know that.”

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