published Friday, August 17th, 2012

Murray County judge facing probe resigns

Judge Bryant Cochran's resignation letter
Judge Bryant Cochran's resignation letter

Conasauga District Attorney Bert Poston will meet with state law enforcement today to discuss whether a criminal investigation should be launched into allegations that a former Murray County judge signed blank warrants and left them for officers to use at their discretion.

Chief Magistrate Bryant Cochran stepped down Wednesday evening after the Georgia Judicial Qualifications Commission investigated whether he pre-signed warrants and whether he tried to solicit a woman for sex in exchange for a favorable ruling in a case.

The JQC -- a watchdog agency for judges -- will discuss its findings with the Conasauga district attorney's office and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Poston said.

"The allegations we are hearing are very serious ones," he said. "[But] we have to see what the evidence is and make decisions based on evidence."

When an officer asks for a warrant, the correct procedure is to meet with a judge who listens to sworn testimony listing reasons for the criminal charges and arrest. The judge then makes a decision whether to sign the warrant.

If warrants are pre-signed, any arrest made under them will be illegal, Poston said.

Cochran, who was on the bench for eight years and was recently re-elected, admitted that he pre-signed warrants in the typed statement that announced his resignation. In the statement sent by his attorney, Chris Townley, Cochran denies doing anything inappropriate and says his family came under attack but he doesn't give details.

"These attacks have crossed a line that shouldn't be brought under fire," he wrote. "Sometimes it is not a question of whether or not to fight but what are you going to win?"

Local officials say allegations about pre-signing warrants could be difficult to prove because it's unclear how widely the warrants might have been used and what law enforcement agencies might be involved, said Public Defender Mike McCarthy. The allegations could bring into question every decision Cochran has made throughout his career, McCarthy said.

The attorney for Angie Garmley, whose complaint alleging that the judge asked her for sex sparked the initial investigation, said Cochran's family was never questioned in connection with her complaint.

Garmley first claimed Cochran asked her to be his mistress and later texted and called her, asking her to come to his office "wearing a dress with no panties," according to her complaint. She had gone to Cochran to ask him to take out arrest warrants on three people who she claimed had beaten her.

On Tuesday, Garmley was arrested for possession of methamphetamine. Her attorney, McCracken Poston, said the case "stinks to high heaven" and is asking for an outside agency to investigate.

GBI Special Agent in Charge Jerry Scott said investigators will look at the entire case, including Garmley's complaint.

"We're going to talk about the entire circumstance to see if there is anything we can or should do," he said.

about Joy Lukachick Smith...

Joy Lukachick is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press Since 2009, she's covered breaking news, high-profile trials, stories of lost lives and of regained hope and done investigative work. Raised near the Bayou, Joy’s hometown is along the outskirts of Baton Rouge, La. She has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication from Louisiana State University. While at LSU, Joy was a staff writer for the Daily Reveille. When Joy isn't chasing ...

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