“Sometimes it is not a question of whether or not to fight but what are you going to win?”
That’s the last sentence of a written statement from Bryant Cochran, the now former chief magistrate judge in Murray County, in explaining why he resigned from his post Wednesday evening.
Cochran was under investigation by the Georgia Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC) for pre-signing warrants for law enforcement officials.
The commission on its website posted Cochran’s resignation letter, a letter from Gov. Nathan Deal accepting his resignation and a copy of a consent order signed by Cochran agreeing to resign and to not seek any other elected or appointed judicial office.
A report accompanying those documents, also signed by Cochran, says the commission was investigating whether Cochran “allowed the prestige of his office to advance his private interests” and whether he “pre-signed blank arrest warrants for completion by law enforcement officers while he was absent from the office.”
The report says Cochran agreed to the consent order prior to the commission voting to hold a formal hearing on those matters.
Cochran did not immediately return a telephone message left at his residence Thursday. His attorney, Chris Townley, declined to comment but sent The Daily Citizen a prepared statement from Cochran.
Cochran wrote that he accepted “full responsibility” for the pre-signed warrants for law enforcement officials.
“This is solely the reason for my resignation,” he wrote.
The statement continued: “My first responsibility is to my family and our well-being. Eight years ago I asked to be a public official, but I never asked for my loved ones to be brought under fire. Your family and mine should be off limits! These attacks have crossed a line that shouldn’t be acceptable to anyone. At the end of the day this is just a job and I can’t think of any job worth what we’ve been put through. Thank you to my friends, family and supporters for everything. I hope you understand and respect my decision. Sometimes it is not a question of whether or not to fight but what are you going to win?”
Murray County voters elected Cochran to a third four-year term on July 31. Murray County Attorney Greg Kinnamon said Thursday afternoon state law calls on the Superior Court judges of the Conasauga Circuit, which includes Whitfield and Murray counties, to appoint someone to fill Cochran’s unexpired term.
But Kinnamon said he was not certain whether the judges would also appoint someone to fill the four-year term that Cochran was just elected to, which begins Jan. 1, 2013.
“He (Cochran) was elected to that term. But he hasn’t been sworn in yet. He hasn’t taken office. That may make a difference,” he said.
Kinnamon said the county’s two part-time magistrates will step in until the Superior Court judges appoint a new chief magistrate.
“Right now, we have part-time magistrates who can fill in, so there’s no disruption of duties. Part-time magistrates have the same power that the chief magistrate does,” Kinnamon said.
Conasauga Circuit District Attorney Bert Poston said Thursday afternoon he would meet with officials from the JQC this morning and make any decisions about possible criminal charges after that.
“I have spoken to both the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the Attorney General’s Office, but any formal request or referral would come after my meeting (Friday), if appropriate,” Poston wrote in an email.
Kinnamon said he did not know what sanctions, if any, law enforcement officials who may have used pre-signed warrants might face.
“I would not want to speculate about that,” he said.
Poston also said he did not want to speculate on that or on how current and past cases might be affected if it’s determined that Cochran did give pre-signed warrants to law enforcement officials.
In late July, Ringgold attorney McCracken Poston said the JQC was investigating whether Cochran “made an unwanted advance” to 36-year-old Angela Garmley, McCracken Poston’s client, when she went to him in April seeking a warrant against someone who had allegedly assaulted her. McCracken Poston said Garmley was cooperating with that investigation. McCracken Poston is not related to the district attorney.
In a statement at that time, Cochran said, “This is a politically timed, politically motivated personal attack on my family and I.”
Garmley was arrested Tuesday night by Murray County sheriff’s deputies and charged with possession of methamphetamine.
According to an incident report, Deputy Josh Greeson stopped a car in which Garmley was a passenger because the driver failed to dim his headlights. The report states Greeson used a drug dog to search the car after noticing Garmley stumble slightly and that she had “slurred speech.” Greeson’s report states his drug dog alerted near the front of the vehicle, and he found a small metal can stuck under the driver’s door. Inside was a substance that appeared to be meth, he said, along with a large, round magnet.
The driver, Jason Anthony Southern, was charged with possession of methamphetamine, driving with a suspended license and failure to dim headlights and Garmley was also charged since the car belonged to her.
McCracken Poston called the circumstances surrounding the arrest “very suspicious.” Angela Garmley claimed in the incident report that she was “set up.”