Gag order, attorney change sought in Calhoun post-prom rape case

Gag order, attorney change sought in Calhoun post-prom rape case

August 20th, 2014 by Tyler Jett in Local Regional News

From left, Fields Chapman, Andrew Haynes and Avery Johnson

Photo by Contributed Photo/Times Free Press.

Prosecutors in the Calhoun High School sexual battery investigation want to kick one defense attorney off the case and ban every lawyer involved from talking about it.

Appalachian Judicial Circuit Assistant District Attorney Michael George filed a motion last week to disqualify Steve Williams, the attorney for Andrew Isaac Haynes, one of three former Calhoun High athletes accused of sexually abusing a classmate during a post-prom party.

In his motion, George said Williams has a conflict of interest in the case. Williams works at the McCamy, Phillips, Tuggle and Fordham Law Firm in Dalton. Ga. Sam Sanders, an attorney who represents a witness in the case, also works there.

"The law firm ... has a conflict of interest because Stephen Williams represents the defendant Andrew Haynes and Samuel Sanders represents a witness that the State intends to call as a witness in the prosecution of Andrew Haynes," George wrote in the motion. "For this analysis, Stephen Williams represents both the defendant Andrew Haynes and the witness Rhett Harper."

Nobody at District Attorney Alison Sosebee's Gilmer County office returned a call seeking comment Tuesday afternoon. Williams, meanwhile, declined to comment.

In May, according to the Gilmer County Sheriff's Office, Haynes, Fields Benjamin Chapman and Damon Avery Johnson penetrated an 18-year-old female classmate with their fingers against her will. A Gilmer County grand jury indicted the men this month on a total of 66 charges. They face a combined 10 life sentences in prison, plus 351 years.

In addition to the motion to disqualify Williams, the district attorney's office also filed a gag order last week. In particular, prosecutors want Williams and Jesse Vaughn to stop talking about the case in public. Vaughn represents Johnson.

In its filing, the prosecutors argued that the defense attorneys violated the Georgia State Bar's rules of professional conduct by influencing Gilmer County citizens -- people who could sit on the jury if the case goes to trial.

According to Rule 3.6(a), an attorney should not make public statements before trial if those statements have "a substantial likelihood" of influencing a case. But, according to Rule 3.6(c), an attorney can make public statements to "protect a client" if other people are hurting a client's reputation before trial with their own statements.

Weeks before the Gilmer County Sheriff's Office arrested Chapman, Haynes and Johnson, the alleged crime received media attention throughout the state. In May, Gilmer County Sheriff Stacy Nicholson said the victim received some of the worst injuries he had ever seen.

In its court filing, the district attorney's office says Williams violated the rules of professional conduct because he said the prosecutors were rushing the case, called their indictment against Haynes "ridiculous" and compared the investigation to the 2006 Duke University lacrosse rape case, a high-profile case that was ultimately dropped because of a lack of evidence and prosecutorial misconduct.

"This comparison is inflammatory, unethical, unprofessional and inaccurate," the Gilmer County District Attorney's Office wrote in the motion.

The prosecution also says Vaughn violated the rules of professional conduct by criticizing the sheriff's investigation and questioning the motives of the alleged victim. Sanders, meanwhile, is also accused of breaking the rules by writing a statement on his Facebook page about Harper.

Sanders wrote in May that, after looking through the investigators' evidence, he could say "unequivocally" that Harper was a witness, not a suspect.

The prosecution's motions were supposed to be heard in court on Tuesday, but a judge pushed the hearing back until Sept. 23 because of a scheduling conflict. None of the defense attorneys had filed an answer to these motions as of Tuesday afternoon.

"I'm formulating a response," Vaughn said.

Contact Staff Writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or at tjett@timesfreepress.com.