A lawyer for former Waffle House CEO Joe Rogers Jr. made clear Friday that the acquittal of three defendants, charged in Fulton County with illegally video recording Rogers during a sexual encounter, wouldn’t impede his civil litigation against the trio in Cobb County.
“The ‘not guilty’ verdict does nothing to diminish Joe Rogers’ claims in the Cobb litigation,” wrote Moore Ingram Johnson & Steele partner Robert Ingram in an email. “As you may recall, OJ [Simpson]’s ‘acquittal’ did not shield him from later civil judgments.”
Ingram also said the ruling will not dislodge a ruling by Cobb County Superior Court Judge Robert Leonard II disqualifying lawyers John Butters and David Cohen from representing Rogers’ ex-housekeeper Mye Brindle after determining that they had assisted her in unlawful conduct.
The verdict “does nothing to impact” Leonard’s orders, said Ingram, which “were all affirmed on appeal and are ‘law of the case’ that cannot be undone by a ruling in another case.”
Brindle’s lawyer, Darren Summerville, said the Fulton jury “rightfully concluded that there was no crime committed or criminal wrongdoing on behalf of Ms. Brindle or her counsel.”
“The acquittals end the efforts by Mr. Rogers and his counsel to silence Ms. Brindle and derail her civil case. The jury’s vindication will now pave the way for trial later this year in Cobb County,” said Summerville, also in an email.
There was no reply to queries from Butters, Cohen or their attorneys,
The Fulton criminal trial stemmed from a flurry of civil litigation that dates to 2012, when Brindle enlisted the aid of Cohen and Butters to commence legal action against Rogers. She claimed he had been coercing her to masturbate him as part of her duties since 2003.
The lawyers helped Brindle acquire a small surveillance camera and assistance in its use, and she recorded an encounter in Rogers’ bedroom. Shortly thereafter, the lawyers sent Rogers a demand letter saying they were preparing to file a sexual harassment suit. During a mediation, Brindle and her lawyers reportedly asked for $12 million to drop the matter.
Instead, Rogers sued Brindle in Cobb County Superior Court for invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
A few days later, Brindle sued Rogers in Fulton County State Court asserting claims for racketeering, battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress. That suit was dismissed 21 days later, and Brindle agreed to file counterclaims in the Cobb litigation. (It took years of more litigation before a Fulton judge found held that Cohen owed Rogers nearly $199,000 in attorney fees because Cohen “unnecessarily expanded the proceedings … for the purposes of delay and harassment.”)
In the Cobb litigation, Leonard in 2015 disqualified Butters and Cohen from representing Brindle. The judge ruled that the lawyers had advised Brindle in the commission of a crime—the same one for which the Fulton jury acquitted them—and that they might be called as witnesses against her.
Leonard and the Cobb bench subsequently recused; The litigation is now before Mountain Circuit Senior Superior Court Judge Martha Christian.
While the Cobb litigation ground on, Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard Jr. indicted Brindle, Butters and Cohen in 2016 on four felony charges including violations of Georgia’s illegal surveillance law.
Judge Henry Newkirk threw out the charges, but the Georgia Supreme Court reinstated them in November. After a seven-day trial, a jury acquitted the trio Wednesday.
While Ingram, Rogers’ lawyer, decried the verdict and some of Newkirk’s rulings, he said Rogers’ position in the Cobb litigation is sound.
In Rogers’ suit against Butters and Cohen, “the video was found to be unlawful, the attorney client privilege pierced, Butters and Cohen disqualified due to their involvement in Brindle’s illegal activity, and the video ruled inadmissible as evidence,” Ingram wrote.
Ingram wrote that, in that suit, “the trial court permitted Rogers to sue Butters and Cohen for their tortious activity. They appealed by asserting, in part, that their actions as ‘lawyers being lawyers’ shielded them from civil liability.”
The Court of Appeals, he said, “ruled that it did not—that they could be held civilly accountable because their alleged conduct was ‘tortious and criminal.’”
“It is clear to me that nothing could be worse for the reputation of lawyers in this state than if a public perception were allowed to take hold that breaking the law is permissible so long as someone carrying a Bar card can claim they were acting ‘as a lawyer,’” Ingram said.
Regardless of the criminal verdict, Ingram said, “the alleged conspiracy to extort money from Rogers remains at issue in the Cobb civil proceedings,” he said.