published Saturday, August 17th, 2013

Former Murray County, Ga., judge dropped from federal suit

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A former Murray County, Ga., judge accused of sexually harassing his female staff still may have to answer for the allegations, an attorney said.

Former Chief Magistrate Judge Bryant Cochran was dismissed Thursday from a federal lawsuit that three women filed claiming he had touched their breasts and made comments such as, "boy they are getting bigger."

But Murray County still is named in the suit and attorney Stuart James said he is going to sue Cochran in state court.

Cochran's attorney, Phil Friduss, said the federal judge's decision to dismiss the claims against Cochran is a step toward clearing the former judge's reputation.

"We are pleased with the progress being made toward clearing Bryant Cochran's good name," Friduss said. "There's more to do."

But James, an attorney representing Virginia Rector, Yesenia Galvan and Sonya Petty, said that's not possible.

"Bryant Cochran's good name is not cleared because he doesn't have one," he said. "It stinks, still stinks and will always stink."

Cochran has been in the headlines since August 2012, when Murray County resident Angela Garmley complained that he had asked her for sex in his chambers. A state ethics probe revealed that Cochran was presigning warrants for police to use. Cochran resigned, denying Garmley's sexual allegations.

He also has been linked to a conspiracy in which two former Murray County deputies admitted they were involved in a plan to plant drugs on Garmley's car. Another man, Clifford "C.J." Joyce, who lived in a trailer park Cochran owned, also admitted he was involved in the conspiracy. All three men have been indicted in federal court and have pleaded guilty to felony conspiracy charges.

Cochran hasn't been charged with any crimes at this time.

After Cochran resigned last August, his female staff claimed they had dealt with years of a hostile work environment where the judge often made explicit remarks and even rubbed against them in the bathroom.

The women said they didn't feel free to speak up until after Cochran resigned. Murray County was named in the suit because of the alleged hostile work environment.

Under federal guidelines, the employer, not an individual, is responsible if there's a claim of a hostile work environment. That's why the attorneys were allowed to file another lawsuit only against the county.

As soon as next week, James said, he plans to file a new lawsuit in state court against Cochran.

Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at jlukachick@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6659.

about Joy Lukachick...

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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