No 'smoking gun' seen in judge-defender case

ATHENS, Ga. --- An investigation into a possible sexual relationship between a judge and a public defender revealed no "smoking gun" that would prove whether any criminal cases were compromised, the attorney who led the probe said Friday.


Bryan Cavan advised the board of the Georgia Public Defender Standards Council not to alert the hundreds of defendants represented by Kim Cornwell, an assistant public defender accused of a 2008 tryst with Fayette County Superior Court Judge Paschal English. Both resigned last year after the accusations were made public.

The council, which oversees Georgia's state-funded public defender system, did not take action, but Chairman Mike Berg said the panel could vote on a recommendation in the future.

Cavan, a former State Bar of Georgia president, was tapped to launch an investigation into whether the relationship tainted any of the 400 or so cases that Cornwell handled after Fayette County District Attorney Scott Ballard said in June that investigators determined English was in a sexual relationship with Cornwell.

Ballard said a sheriff's deputy saw and recorded part of an encounter between English, a past contestant on the TV show Survivor , and Cornwell in a car registered to her husband that was parked in the cul-de-sac of a subdivision.

Cavan said that beyond that encounter there was no "direct evidence" of a sexual relationship between the two, who could not be reached for comment.

"There are a number of anecdotal stories, any of which can be explained," he said, mentioning reports that they were seen eating lunch together. "There are a lot of rumors, but none of those rumors, no one has come forward with any smoking gun."

Cavan reviewed about 420 cases Cornwell handled between mid-2006 and mid-2010 and found that all but six cases ended in a dismissal or a negotiated plea.

One of the six trials ended in an acquittal, and five resulted in convictions, he said.

Three of the defendants received lighter sentences than recommended by prosecutors, and one was slapped with a stiffer sentence.

In the fifth case, prosecutors made no sentencing recommendation.

"I don't believe there is sufficient reason to take action in this case," Cavan said.