Judge’s sex talk swept under the robe?
Chief Judge English fails to act on complaint
A Peachtree City attorney Friday said Chief Superior Court Judge Paschal A. English Jr. failed to intervene when she informed him in fall 2008 of sexually inappropriate comments made to her by Superior Court Judge Johnnie L. Caldwell in 2007 and 2008.
Susan M. Brown said English told her: “You just have to go talk to Judge Caldwell yourself.”
It was those very risque comments from Caldwell that led to his resignation from the bench Monday, along with a handwritten promise “never to seek or hold judicial office again.” That promise came following a formal investigation launched by the Georgia Judicial Qualifications Commission, though Brown says she never filed a complaint with the JQC.
In fact, a “transfer order” — signed by Caldwell — reassigning the case from Caldwell to English was filed with the court clerk’s office Aug. 12, 2009, eight months before the JQC action resulting in Caldwell’s forced resignation. In this instance, a junior judge signed the order that reassigned a contentious case to the senior judge.
Whether the allegations were reported as soon as English found about them to the JQC, which has the power to discipline or remove judges, is unknown to the public since most of the JQC’s activities are shielded from disclosure by the Georgia Constitution.
English himself, in an interview with The Citizen Tuesday, said he had no knowledge of the reason for the JQC investigator’s visit to the circuit and had no information about anything Caldwell may have done to warrant his resignation. “I can’t comment because I don’t know anything,” Chief Judge English told The Citizen Tuesday. “I’ve heard probably about 50 different rumors.”
English was unavailable for comment before press time Friday afternoon.
Brown said Friday that she never pursued any investigation into Caldwell’s sexually-charged comments “because I liked him as a judge.”
“I did not want Judge Caldwell removed,” Brown said. “I just wanted it to stop.”
The risque comments from Caldwell that Brown talked about on the record occurred outside the courtroom setting at a tailgate function for a football game, Brown said.
The comment in 2007 was directed at Brown but the one in 2008 was a comment about Brown that Caldwell directed at two of Brown’s clients, she said. In a TV interview this week, Caldwell admitted to making inappropriate comments to female attorneys.
Caldwell’s sexually-charged comments surfaced earlier this month as part of a contentious divorce case in which Susan Brown represents the wife, Janet Lee Crook of Peachtree City. Caldwell was the initial presiding judge in the case, and he ruled on custody and alimony issues before the case was reassigned to English in the fall of 2009.
The case ended up in the court of Superior Court Judge Christopher C. Edwards this February.
While some may view Judge English as protecting Judge Caldwell by failing to intervene after being told of Caldwell’s off-color comments, Judge Edwards offered no such protection.
Judge Edwards brought Caldwell’s comments about Brown to light during a pretrial hearing in the Crook divorce case, according to a transcript of hearings in the Crook divorce case this month.
Judge Edwards learned of Caldwell’s ribald comments in a post-hearing visit Brown paid to Edwards’ chambers. Brown said she wanted to explain a comment she made about the case being handled unfairly because she wanted Edwards to understand the comments weren’t aimed at him.
In a very short time frame, Edwards called an emergency meeting of all parties in the case to make sure all were aware of Caldwell’s potentially prejudicial comments and the possibility they might have had an affect on the previous rulings in the case, according to the transcript.
Because Caldwell is a fellow jurist, Judge Edwards told the attorneys that he would have to recuse himself from the case unless a waiver was entered from all parties saying they would not appeal any of the previous judges’ rulings on the case, according to a hearing transcript.
The transcript also showed that Edwards was concerned to such a point about the risque comments attributed to Caldwell that he wondered whether Caldwell’s previous orders in the case were determined appropriately.
“If those orders might have been something that was suggested were improper in some kind of way, then I have absolutely no business enforcing them until it was determined that they were proper orders,” Edwards said according to the transcript.
Edwards took pains to avoid mentioning the detailed comments in court, instead calling a recess in the hearing so Brown could share the information with all attorneys in the case.
In light of the new information about Caldwell, Mrs. Crook was allowed to seek counsel of another attorney on the chance that she wasn’t made fully aware of the extent of Caldwell’s inappropriate remarks. It was that new attorney, Gary S. Freed of Atlanta, who filed the initial motion April 19 asking Edwards to be recused from the case, a full week after Edwards teetered on recusing himself to begin with.
Edwards at the April 12 hearing declined to recuse himself on the basis that it would further slow the trial, as it would have then been assigned to an out-of-circuit judge, according to the transcript of the hearing.
Another factor swaying Edwards to stay on the case was the well-being of the Crook children. Their guardian ad litem, Jack Overman, reminded Edwards that any significant delay in the trial was not in the children’s best interests.
All three remaining Fayette Superior Court judges have entered orders recusing themselves from the case, including Judge Edwards. Chief Judge English was in charge of the case between Aug. 12, 2009 and Feb. 8, 2010, at which point he assigned the case to Edwards.
Superior Court Judge Tommy Hankinson never presided over the case, though it once was scheduled to appear on his jury trial calendar prior to the case being continued.
In fact, the number of continuances in the case has become a sticking point for Gregory Crook’s attorney, Alan Connell. In the April 12 hearing before Judge Edwards, Connell vigorously objected to a proposed one-week continuance in the case.
Connell noted the case had been continued on five separate occasions, all at the request of Mrs. Crook’s attorneys.
“This case is being held hostage,” Connell said.
English’s lack of action may well be a violation of a state judicial canon that requires judges to “take appropriate action” when they “receive information indicating a substantial likelihood that another judge” committed a violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct.
Judges who have “actual knowledge” that another judge has committed a violation of the judicial code which questions the judge’s fitness for office “shall inform the appropriate authority,” the Judicial Conduct Code states.
Yet Judge Edwards apparently feels the same way, noting specifically in the April 2 transcript that not only does he lack “actual knowledge” but he also couldn’t find “a substantial likelihood” of a judicial violation.
Edwards indicated Brown’s explanation of Caldwell’s inappropriate comments “is, in essence, a report.”