Judge Robert D. Leonard II (John Disney/Daily Report)
Cobb County Superior Court Judge Rob Leonard has recused himself from a web of litigation over a secretly-recorded sex video with the chairman of Waffle House, issuing a blistering order accusing a lawyer of lies an unethical conduct.
Leonard called attorney David Cohen of Complex Law Group in Marietta a “disgruntled litigant” who had attacked the assigned judge “launching false allegations against the court in an effort to judge-shop.”
The order included sections labeled “Cohen’s Falsehood No. 1″ continuing through No. 6 and “Cohen’s Misleading Statement No. 1″ through No. 2. Leonard said Cohen made statements that were “demonstrably false” in documents supporting a motion to recuse for alleged bias.
“Judges should not let themselves get bullied away from cases just because litigants are angry at the rulings they are receiving,” Leonard wrote. He initially denied a motion to recuse, then reconsidered after his family was “dragged into the fray.” Cohen filed sealed documents from Leonard’s divorce proceedings, alleging a conflict of interest because it involved one of many attorneys on the other side.
Cohen represents Mye Brindle, longtime housekeeper and personal assistant to Joe Rogers Jr., chairman of the Waffle House restaurant chain and son of its late founder. She accused her boss of sexual harassment. Their settlement conference broke down after Rogers offered $100,000, but Cohen suggested $12 million. He sued her in Cobb alleging attempted extortion and invasion of privacy. That case is known as Cobb I. In what is known as Cobb II, Rogers also sued Brindle’s lawyers.
Brindle sued Rogers in Fulton County but later dismissed that case and filed a counterclaim in Cobb.
“This court is painfully familiar with the very contentious litigation,” Leonard wrote.
“We’re all a little stunned by the recusal of our judge of four-and-a-half years and countless rulings that have been affirmed on appeal, said Rogers’ attorney Robert Ingram of Moore, Ingram, Johnson & Steele in Marietta. “We’re disappointed by the conduct of a fellow member of the bar who would engage in deceitful, dishonest conduct to prompt the judge to issue an order like he did. It’s really troubling.”
Cohen’s counsel for the matter, John Floyd of Bondurant Mixson & Elmore, said the judge’s orders “exhibit a personal interest” in the case. He added, “Ms. Brindle’s counsel deny any wrongdoing in filing the motions and carrying out their duty to see that their client receives a trial free from any judicial prejudice.”
In 2013, after viewing the video at the request of Brindle’s lawyers, the Cobb judge ruled that it was illegal because it was made without Rogers’ consent. Leonard also said in his order that Brindle initiated the sexual encounter and seemed comfortable with it. Leonard ruled that, because the recording was made illegally, the attorney-client privilege could not be used to block questioning about it. Rogers alleged that Brindle made the video soon after her lawyers sent her to their investigator, who equipped her with a “spy camera.”
Last year, Fulton County prosecutors accused Cohen, Brindle and another lawyer of conspiracy to commit extortion and, based on the recording, unlawful surveillance and eavesdropping. But Superior Court Judge Henry Newkirk agreed with defense lawyers that the first count of the indictment, conspiracy to commit extortion, was “overbroad” and that the remaining counts “failed to state a crime.”
Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard said the state would appeal.