The Georgia Court of Appeals has ordered new trials for five men convicted of serious crimes in Fayette County because their trial judge was having an undisclosed affair with defendants’ public defender.
Doesn’t that seem strange to you? After all, the clients of the judge’s secret love were convicted and sentenced. Why should they get the benefit of new trials when the judge’s evident conflict and judicial misconduct didn’t benefit them or harm them in any way (unless a judge making sure his lover’s clients get prison time is a quirky way to say “I love you” in the Peach Tree State). This isn’t like the horrendous Charles Dean Hood case in Texas, where a man was sentenced to death after a trial in which the state prosecutor was sleeping with the judge.
The Georgia judge-lawyer affair (and I thought Steven Bochco was making it all up!) came to light in 2010. Paschal English, who subsequently resigned as chief Superior Court judge, had been involved in a romantic relationship with assistant public defender Kimberly Cornwell, who has also moved on to new pursuits, ideally those that don’t require trust or ethics. A three judge panel recently agreed that this relationship, undisclosed and a clear cut ethical violation for both judge and attorney, required that there be new trials for Christopher Wakefield and Travion Willis on charges of armed robbery, kidnapping, aggravated assault and other crimes; William Nutt for aggravated child molestation and aggravated sexual battery; Rashad Arnold for burglary; and Calvin Boynton for armed robbery, aggravated assault, possession of a sawed-off shotgun and drug possession.
Doesn’t this set up a terrific new tactic for desperate defense attorneys? Just seduce the judge! If the judge helps your clients to an acquittal because he wants to hold on to your affections, even if the affair is exposed later, your clients are still in the clear: double jeopardy prevents them from being tried again. And if Judge Lover Boy can keep his brain uninfluenced by his man-parts sufficiently so that the clients get convicted, then they get a new trial when your affair hits the headlines! Brilliant!
Okay, I’ve been playing devil’s advocate long enough. The panel was correct: this judge was seriously conflicted and violating basic tenets of judicial trust and integrity. No trial, whatever the result, should stand when presided over by such a judge. As the panel correctly stated, the judge’s impartiality was compromised, and the trials were not fair or just. The fact that they ended in convictions is irrelevant. Because of the deception and the conflict from the bench, the trials were invalid from the moment they started. The defendants, then did not get a fair trial, and could not get a fair trial. A fair trial is determined by the way it is conducted, not by its result.
The new trials are appropriate.
* Note: This is NOT a photo of Judge English.
Facts: Atlanta Constitution