State office probing judge-attorney affair
An attorney from outside the Griffin Judicial Circuit has been appointed to review criminal cases to determine if any indigent defendants’ rights were violated due to the now-substantiated affair between a public defense attorney and Superior Court Judge Paschal A. English Jr.
Bryan M. Cavan, an attorney at Miller & Martin law firm in Atlanta, will not be reviewing individual cases but instead will be looking at the totality of the situation and will report back to the Georgia Public Defender Standards Council, according to Mack Crawford, the director of the public defender standards council.
One council member, Don Oliver, said he had planned to suggest that the local public defender’s office begin to notify clients of the affair. Oliver, who is the county attorney for Walker County, said he would withhold that recommendation until a later date pending the results of the investigation.
Part of the impetus for the investigation is the medical condition of Chief Public Defender Joe Saia, who remains hospitalized after suffering a heart attack in early June while he was on vacation. Saia was expected to provide a report on the matter to the public defender council but since being hospitalized he has been unable to do so.
Crawford said he felt the matter needed to be resolved.
“With Joe’s situation,” Crawford said. “... I felt like we had to do something to look at the situation there and make sure clients interests had not been compromised or jeopardized in any form or fashion.”
Crawford, who was recently appointed as one of Fayette’s two new Superior Court judges, said Friday that the council has received “several phone calls” from clients and former clients about the situation, as the relationship between Superior Court Judge English and then-public defense attorney Kim Cornwell created ethical questions that have yet to be answered.
Neither Cornwell nor English, both of whom have resigned from their positions, cooperated with an investigation into the matter conducted by the office of District Attorney Scott Ballard. That probe was ordered by Superior Court Judge Christopher Edwards, and Ballard ultimately announced that Cornwell and English were confirmed to have been engaged in an affair due to the fact they were caught Oct. 13, 2008 by a Fayette sheriff’s deputy in a subdivision while engaged in a sexual act in a motor vehicle.
The affair remained a secret until May of this year when the deputy’s encounter was confirmed by Fayette County Sheriff Wayne Hannah, several weeks after English tendered his resignation from the bench.
Ballard in a May press conference he and Saia in their review of the cases involving English and Cornwell could find no bias in favor of any parties in the criminal cases. However, Ballard’s review was limited to cases which occurred only after the date English and Cornwell were discovered by the deputy. Ballard confirmed that he didn’t review any cases between English and Cornwell at any point of time before the affair was discovered.
Ballard at the press conference admitted that he had known English and Cornwell were spending time together but he was unaware they were involved in an affair.
Crawford said there are about 400-450 cases that could be in question and the number depends on “what date” is chosen to review cases. Those details are being left up to Cavan to determine, Crawford said.
“He is just looking to make a recommendation back to the council on how to proceed from here,” Crawford said, adding that Cavan may find some matters which require further direction from the council.
Crawford said before Cavan was appointed, he discussed the matter with counsel from the governor’s office and then subsequently with the Georgia attorney general’s office.
Once it was decided that an attorney would be picked to handle the probe, several attorneys were approached and turned down the request, Crawford said. Cavan, a former president of the Georgia Bar Association, agreed.
There is no time frame for the investigation to be concluded at this point, Crawford said.
Cavan, who lives in Newnan, specializes in business litigation with an emphasis on construction and surety law and also employment cases, according to his biography on his firm’s website.
In addition to being president of the state bar association from 2009-2010, Cavan also has chaired the bar’s state disciplinary board investigative panel.
Cavan also has a history of helping low-income persons in need of legal help, having co-founded the DeKalb Volunteer Lawyers Foundation to specifically meet those needs.
Crawford also noted that the Griffin Circuit public defender office has been short-handed due to Saia’s ailment, the recent passing of senior assistant public defender Tammy Jacobs and also the resignation of Cornwell.
Another senior assistant public defender, Allen Adams, has been appointed to serve as the chief assistant public defender for administrative purposes only, Crawford said.