August 31, 2012

Attorney: 12 pre-signed warrants never issued

Rachel Brown

— An Atlanta-based attorney for former Murray County Judge Bryant Cochran said his client pre-signed 12 warrants “a few months ago” but never issued them or intended to give them out without a hearing.

“He never issued a pre-signed warrant,” said Page A. Pate.

Pate said Cochran signed the warrants after an officer called magistrate court saying he planned to ask for 12 warrants at a hearing. The office, however, had computer problems that day, so Cochran hand-wrote the warrants, Pate said. The computer issues were resolved before the trooper arrived, he said, so Cochran issued the final warrants that way. He saved the handwritten ones in a desk drawer.

“It’s not a crime, but it’s not good procedure,” said Pate, who began representing Cochran Thursday. “You shouldn’t have pre-signed warrants lying around if you’re a judge.”

Cochran resigned Aug. 15 amid allegations he requested sexual favors from Angela Garmley in exchange for a favorable ruling. Pate said that never happened. In a statement, Cochran said he resigned only because he signed the warrants before a hearing.

Many in the community have questioned whether the judicial system in Murray County is vastly corrupt and have asked how far the misconduct reaches. Pate said what really happened with the warrants is “not nearly what’s been portrayed.”

Still, McCracken Poston, Garmley’s Ringgold-based attorney, said he isn’t buying Cochran’s story about the pre-signed warrants being in his desk.

“I don’t believe that’s what the investigation is going to show,” Poston said. “Unless he was practicing his handwriting, I don’t think there is a very good defense at all or he would have defended it vigorously against the JQC.”

Cochran has been investigated by the Judicial Qualifications Commission on the sexual allegations, and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and U.S. Justice Department are involved in an inquiry into pre-signing warrants and whether any other misconduct or illegal activity occurred.

Pate doesn’t deny Cochran did wrong by pre-signing the warrants.

“It’s not good judicial conduct,” he said. “It was unethical, it was wrong, and he admitted to it. But it was not criminal, and he never intended to give those blank warrants to anyone.”

Catoosa County-based attorney Chris Townley represented Cochran for several weeks. Pate said he took on the case because of his experience dealing with federal issues. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported this week the U.S. Justice Department had become involved in the case.

Two Murray County Sheriff’s Office deputies have been fired this week for lying to GBI investigators, Sheriff Howard Ensley said. The two deputies were present when Garmley was arrested on a drug possession charge that investigators later said was a set-up. The charge has been dismissed, but investigators so far are keeping details quiet and have not said who they believe planted the drugs.

Pate said his office will conduct an investigation, too. Cochran had nothing to do with Garmley’s arrest, Pate said, and he learned of it only after it had happened.

“The timing is bad, I can understand how people can jump to conclusions based upon that,” Pate said. “He had no involvement.”