North Georgia judge drops suit against former magistrate

North Georgia judge drops suit against former magistrate

February 11th, 2014 by Tyler Jett in Local Regional News

Former Chief Magistrate Bryant Cochran and Angela Garmley. Garmley's accusations against Cochran initiated a state investigation that led to the judge's resignation.

Photo by Contributed Photo/Times Free Press.

A North Georgia judge may have propositioned a woman for sex, and the woman may have rejected him. And she may have blown the whistle on his actions. And that judge may have told the police that she had drugs in her car. And the woman's subsequent arrest might have been a setup.

But that doesn't mean Murray County Magistrate Bryant Cochran was the one who put the drugs there. It doesn't even mean Cochran knew about the setup.

That's what U.S. District Judge Harold Murphy ruled Friday, when he dismissed the civil lawsuit that the woman, Angela Garmley, filed against Cochran. Murphy said the magistrate was allowed to proposition Garmley for sex. And, even though Garmley openly complained about Cochran's actions, Murphy said he didn't see strong enough evidence to prove that Cochran orchestrated Garmley's unjust jailing.

Garmley is also suing the officers who made the arrest, former Murray County deputy Joe Greeson and former captain Michael Henderson. Both men lost their jobs after arresting Garmley. Both men went to federal prison for their actions. And both men are still on the hook in the civil lawsuit.

Murphy has now dismissed two lawsuits against Cochran in six months. In August, Murphy dismissed a sexual harassment claim that three former employees brought against Cochran. Their lawyers have since filed a similar, pending lawsuit in Murray County Superior Court.

Last year, federal prosecutors said Cochran called several local police officers to tell them that Garmley had drugs in her car. Prosecutors also say the man who set Garmley up for arrest did so to please Cochran.

But the former judge has not been charged with a crime. Garmley's attorneys, McCracken Poston and Stuart James, believe those charges will come, eventually. And when they do, prosecutors will reveal better evidence linking Cochran to the setup.

The lawyers believe Murphy dismissed the case too soon. James said he plans to file an appeal later this week.

For his part, Cochran and his lawyers have maintained that he only told the police about the drugs on Garmley's car because he received a tip about it. He has not said who gave him that tip.

"I don't find that believable," James said. "That's where [Murphy] goes wrong. Every bit of evidence we've seen in this case is that Judge Cochran was the orchestrator of the event."

Cochran's attorney, Phil Frisduss, said Murphy was right to dismiss the case. Just because Garmley rejected Cochran's sexual advances does not mean he set her up to get arrested.

Also, the fact that Cochran told officers about the drugs does not mean he planted the drugs on Garmley, or that he told anyone else to plant the drugs, or that he even knew anything about anyone else planting the drugs.

"Bryant Cochran called this in," Frisduss said of the tip. "He's been forthright about that the whole time. Did these folks just jump to conclusions? The lawyers tried to tie the sex scandal - so to speak - into this. He just mixes and matches and mixes and matches. He tries to say something happened. Well, no. In sports parlance, we're 2-0. He can't prove anything happened because nothing happened."

Cochran and Garmley met in April 2012, when she visited him at his office. She said some people recently had beaten her up, and she wanted to take out a warrant for their arrest.

Cochran asked about her marriage and impending divorce. The judge told her she was beautiful, that she was arousing him, Garmley said. He allegedly said his wife didn't give him what he wanted in the bedroom. He told Garmley he could use a mistress. He told her to come back later in the week wearing a hip-hugging dress and no underwear.

She rejected him. Later, she said, he berated her in a courtroom. But he still granted the arrest warrants.

Then, later that year, she filed a complaint against Cochran to the Georgia Judicial Qualifications Commission. During its investigation, the commission discovered Cochran signed warrants before police officers even applied for them, giving those officers a blank check to arrest who they wanted, when they wanted.

In August 2012, Greeson and Henderson arrested Garmley, her husband and another man who was with them. The next day, amid the JQC's investigation and public pressure from Garmley's lawyer, Cochran resigned.

"He had a good motivation to discredit Angela Garmley," her other attorney, Poston, said of that arrest.

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or tjett@timesfreepress.com.