The Return of the General Warrant?

Sunday, August 19th, 2012

-Eapen Thampy, Americans for Forfeiture Reform

The Law.com Daily Report has details:

Murray County Chief Magistrate Judge Bryant Cochran has resigned, ending a judicial ethics investigation that included the judge’s practice of distributing pre-signed, blank arrest and search warrants to local law enforcement officers.

Cochran resigned effective 5 p.m. Wednesday, his attorney, Christopher Townley, said Thursday. The resignation was delivered to Governor Nathan Deal, who accepted it Thursday morning. Cochran’s departure comes just two weeks after his re-election to a third term.

Cochran agreed never to seek or hold judicial office again, according to a consent order the JQC posted on its website Thursday.

The JQC’s public report said its investigation focused on “whether the judge pre-signed blank arrest warrants for completion by law enforcement officers while he was absent from office.” The report also said the inquiry included “whether the judge allowed the prestige of his office to advance his private interests.”

JQC director Jeffrey Davis would not elaborate on how the judge may have misused his office to advance his private interests. “The matters we investigated, many of which have been made public, are those matters which are referred to in the reported disposition,” he said. “That’s about as specific as I can get.”

Two women have told the Daily Report and the JQC that Cochran sought sexual favors from them. One woman, Angela Garmley, and her attorney, former Georgia legislator McCracken Poston, have said that Cochran asked Garmley to become his mistress in return for a favorable ruling against several people against whom she had sworn out criminal warrants. A second woman who previously had sought help from the judge in a criminal matter told the Daily Report that Cochran had crudely propositioned her last year.

Townley said Cochran’s decision to step down from an office he has held for eight years was not related to the sexual harassment allegations. “He’s just furious” about those complaints, Townley said.

Cochran’s two-sentence resignation letter to the governor offered no explanation for his decision but simply his thanks “to the people of Georgia and Murray County for allowing me to serve.”

In a written statement Townley forwarded to the Daily Report, Cochran said, “I accept full responsibility for the warrants that were pre-signed. This is SOLELY the reason for my resignation.”

Makes one wonder what a more through and public investigation would turn up. I have heard of cases where judges accepted asset forfeiture kickbacks from local law enforcement for similar services…did Cochran have a similar payday?

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35 Responses to “The Return of the General Warrant?”

  1. #1 |  Dave Krueger | 

    Luckily for Cochran, there are no criminal penalties for violations of the Bill of Rights by government officials….

  2. #2 |  Matt | 

    Of course the Coch-ster will still receive a luxurious tax-fed pension for the rest of his parasitic life.

  3. #3 |  plutosdad | 

    Funny how he is so adamant his resignation has nothing to do with the women. Of course in his mind what he did was not sexual harassment. He probably thinks they just can’t take a joke, or should shut up like good women.

  4. #4 |  Burgers Allday | 

    The cynic in me says that the unsigned warrants were probably supported by stronger probable cause than warrants that actually get signed 4 realz.

    “Burgers say whaaat?!?” ™

  5. #5 |  Ahcuah | 

    And shouldn’t all the cops who USED those blank warrants be fired (at the least) or prosecuted (what ought to happen, but won’t).

  6. #6 |  EH | 

    Ahcuah: Oh, I’m sure they wouldn’t be able to *prove* a particular warrant had been signed in advance.

  7. #7 |  kant | 

    so a judge (repeatedly) commits egregious violations and not even pretending to do his job and the best they could muster is a judicial ethics investigation? So the guy who gave free passes gets a free pass. color me surprised.

  8. #8 |  C. S. P. Schofield | 

    I think that, as opposed to any degree of immunity, public servants should be liable for an offense called something like “criminal misuse of office”, with any punishment to include forfeiture of all benefits and pension. There is simply no excuse for our tolerating these swine.

  9. #9 |  Nancy Lebovitz | 

    I’m most horrified at the idea that the judge may have convicted people in exchange for sex.

  10. #10 |  William Anderson | 

    Well, well, well. Northwest Georgia “justice” makes the news again. While I don’t know Chris Townley and Ken Poston, nonetheless I know some of their former clients quite well.

    By the way, what this judge has done is NOT DIFFERENT from what the Patriot Act allows for federal agents. As Judge Andrew Napolitano has pointed out, this “law” allows for government agents to self-write warrants without a judge’s approval.

    So, while I applaud this move, I also point out the hypocrisy in it. People have made a big deal of this while swallowing hole the worst aspects of the Patriot Act.

  11. #11 |  Bernard | 

    As I’ve said a few times on here, guilt is less a material issue here than power. If you’re powerful then the worst guilt will do is force your allies to persuade you to resign to avoid a nasty scene (and this is an extreme rarity).

    If you’re not powerful then plea bargaining and perverse incentives in the judicial system ensure that guilt is much less important than circumstance in determining your fate.

    I’m not a fan of them economically, but I’m not at all surprised that poor people often form unions. Being a small part of a big organisation that throws its weight around in absurd ways is better than being a small individual who sometimes finds themselves in the way of other groups who do the same thing.

  12. #12 |  Weird Willy | 

    #4, Burgers All Day

    “…the unsigned warrants were probably supported by stronger probable cause…”

    What unsigned warrants? What probable cause?

  13. #13 |  Weird Willy | 

    I find Cochran’s sense of his personal victimization both amusing and amazing: “I can’t think of any job worth what we’ve been put through.” I know, it’s like things have gotten so out of hand that a corrupt, POS judge cannot abuse his position on the bench without becoming the object of mild scrutiny! For crying out loud, what is this world coming to?

  14. #14 |  William Anderson | 

    Believe me, Northwest Georgia is utterly corrupt. Tonya Craft was tried in nearby Catoosa County, and there is a nasty network of police and prosecutors who are able to try cases in rigged courtrooms, as judges there act as part of the prosecution team.

  15. #15 |  Bill Wells | 

    #1: “Luckily for Cochran, there are no criminal penalties for violations of the Bill of Rights by government officials….”

    Actually, there are. 18 USC 242 and 243, if memory serves.

  16. #16 |  Burgers Allday | 

    What unsigned warrants? What probable cause?

    I thought it was clear. I guess I could have said –pre-signed warrants– instead of “unsigned warrants.” And, of course, the existence and/or relative strength of probable cause is independent of whether there is no warrant, a pre-signed warrant filled in after the fact, or a duly magesterially reviewed and executed warrant.

  17. #17 |  C. S. P. Schofield | 

    William Anderson,

    I’m not a huge fan of the Patriot Act, and never have been, but I believe (believe, rather than know, mind. If I’m wrong, please tell me) that the Patriot act boiled down to allowing the government to use against terrorists the tactics we already allowed it to use against drug offenders. Now, neither use is a justification for the abuses. But I am suck and tired of

    A) People having hysterics about the Patriot Act as if this kind of out-of-control behavior was in any way new.

    and

    B) Lectures on the dangers of the Act from (and here I will specifically exclude you) people who I begin to think are primarily concerned that all of a sudden their decades long flirtation with Radical Islamic idiots might be a liability.

  18. #18 |  jb | 

    Makes one wonder what a more through and public investigation would turn up. I have heard of cases where judges accepted asset forfeiture kickbacks from local law enforcement for similar services…did Cochran have a similar payday?

    I suspect a more thorough investigation could determine additional criminality. Nevertheless, throwing around rhetorical accusations, “…did Cochran have a similar payday?” with no more evidence than some other proven malfeasance is unwarranted libel. (no pun intended)

  19. #19 |  PersonFromPorlock | 

    Something I originally posted on Volok that bears repeating:

    Something I’ve wondered about: the Constitution forbids the granting of Titles of Nobility by either state or federal governments. One of the principal usufructs of nobility is the right to be tried only by a jury of peers. Isn’t this exactly the right being granted by substituting police and judicial review boards, staffed by senior police officials and judges, for the courts the rest of us are tried in? And doesn’t this amount to granting a de facto title of nobility?

  20. #20 |  jmcross | 

    Cochran is now under investigation by GBI and the state AG interested in the case.

  21. #21 |  Awp | 

    Great info and a great illustration of how some so called officers of the law are so quick to disregard actual law but….and I’m being a little pedantic here but I can’t help myself, apologies…isn’t the title “The Return of the Gerenal Warrant?” a bit misleading? Perhaps I am totally off base but I thought the US has never allowed the practice: Under the 4th amendment, “… and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” True that this amendment was adopted in response to writs of assistance used by courts in British America pre-revolution but those writs are merely a form of general warrant and I believe the language used in the 4th amendment reflects that. Again…sorry to be so nitpicky. I love your blog and read it religiously. I find the issues you write about to be extremely important and pertinent. The prescriptivist in me took over.

  22. #22 |  supercat | 

    #19 | PersonFromPorlock | //One of the principal usufructs of nobility is the right to be tried only by a jury of peers.//

    The right to a trial by a jury of one’s peers does not imply that a defendant could not opt to be tried by other means. On the other hand, the cited section of the Constitution should be significant for another reason: illegitimate actions can by definition form no part of a government agent’s legitimate duties, nor can any law grant legitimate immunity to government agents who deliberately act illegitimately. While it may be reasonable and appropriate for certain statutes to specifically authorize certain government personnel to do things as part of their duties which would be illegal for the general citizenry, and it may even be reasonable to extend such exemptions in cases where a government agent believes he is acting legitimately (e.g. using a warrant which was supposed to be issued for 742 Evergreen Terrace but was mistyped as 724 Evergreen Terrace, he conducts a search of the latter property; such a search should not be regarded as having been legitimate, nor should any evidence found in it be admissible, but the police officer who searched the address on the warrant should not be punished). Anyone claiming such an exemption, however, should be called upon to demonstrate that he had a reasonable belief that his actions were legitimate. A cop who breaks into people’s houses using warrants that he knows were not issued on the basis of probable cause backed by oath or affirmation relating personal knowledge of the affiant is a burglar and/or robber, depending upon whether he accosts any occupants therein; any judge who knowingly issued illegitimate warrants should be prosecuted as a conspirator.

  23. #23 |  Weird Willy | 

    #16, Burgers All Day

    “I guess I could have said –pre-signed warrants– instead of “unsigned warrants.”

    Yes, and I think it would have been best to stick to the facts of the case. There is a *world* of difference between a pre-signed warrant and an unsigned warrant; one is, perforce, evidence of judicial corruption, while the other is merely evidence of incompetence or illegal activity by the police.

    “…of course, the existence and/or relative strength of probable cause is independent of whether there is no warrant…”

    Not so. The existence of probable cause is a pre-condition to the judicial issuance of a warrant. The existence of pre-signed warrants completely removes the element of establishing/demonstrating probable cause from the equation, rendering its very existence a moot and extraneous point. Probable cause only becomes a factor, and only exists as a pendant criterion, upon the due execution of an application for a warrant. Without the need for such application and demonstration, as we find in a system that provides for pre-signed warrants, probable cause becomes entirely ephemeral.

  24. #24 |  Jerri Lynn Ward | 

    A friend of mine reported to me that in Iowa some judges where giving blank, signed orders to the child protective service to enable removal of children without going to the judge each time. A sheriff friend of his discovered it when he was asked to serve such an order and assist in removal of the children of someone he knew. He knew that the affidavit was complete cattle excrement. He confronted the judge and discovered the truth.

    This is probably not completely uncommon.

  25. #25 |  jb | 

    He knew that the affidavit was complete cattle excrement. He confronted the judge and discovered the truth.

    Go on, and which one of the two is no longer employed by the state?

  26. #26 |  Bill Poser | 

    This may not be a case of corruption so much as incompetence. The judge in question was a magistrate judge. In Georgia, magistrate’s courts handle minor cases. The judges are elected in partisan elections and do not have to be lawyers. In fact, all they need is a high school diploma. In other words, minor local politicians with no legal background are making legal decisions. Even if this guy knew that he shouldn’t have pre-signed warrants, what are the odds that he had any real understanding of probable cause? These rinky-dink courts with unqualified judges should be abolished.

  27. #27 |  C.E. | 

    In his favor, it was at least more efficient than making the cops write up an application every time they wanted a warrant. I mean, it’s not like he was ever going to deny one, anyway.

  28. #28 |  dammitchris | 

    One of his accusers has been arrested:
    http://www.timesfreepress.com/news/2012/aug/16/murray-deputy-arrests-woman-who-said/
    http://www.wrcbtv.com/story/19287308/accuser-against-murray-co-judge-arrested-on-drug-charges

  29. #29 |  Burgers Allday | 

    Not so. The existence of probable cause is a pre-condition to the judicial issuance of a warrant. The existence of pre-signed warrants completely removes the element of establishing/demonstrating probable cause from the equation, rendering its very existence a moot and extraneous point.

    The point i am making is not that important, and you are still completely missing it.

    Basically i am saying that the police are probably going to fill out less completely ridiculous warrants when using a pre-signed form. this because they know that if the pre-signed warrant is facially ridiculous, or incredibly sloppy, then a later investigation (eg, iad, civil suit) might uncover the truth. OTOH, if the judge actually rubberstamps it, then it is less likely to come back and harm the policeman-requester, regardless of the weak probable cause basis and/or reckless errors.

    And, yes, the whole system would probably work better if there were no warrants ever. The true value of a warrant isn’t that magistrates stop those without probable cause. Because they don’t. they may sometimes reign in scope of the search, but even that is pretty marginal as far as value to a free society.

    rather, the value of a warrant, in the modern world, is that it prevents the policeman from making up new facts supporting probable cause, adding new places to search and/or adding new items to seize after the fact. The other value is that the seizee / arrestee will genereally get to see their warrant application papers, at least if they are serious enough to hire a lawyer.

    When you look at the values of the previous paragraph, you realize that a magistrate is not needed. All that is needed is that the application documents be filed in a secure place so that the policeman can’t tamper with them after the searching and seizing happens. Also, there will be a record that the arrestee / seizee can access for later suppression hearings (when bad stuff/person is found) of civil suits (when arrestee/seizee turns out to be innocent). For exmple, the system by which applicants file Patent Applications electronically with the patent Office would work just fine. the patent application, as filed, is kept inviolate and nobody serious reads it for year or two or three. then, at 18 months, the whole world can read it. it would be better if this is how warrant application papers worked.

    IOW, written warrants (especially the supporting “affidavits”) are important, but not because of the magistrate’s review (such as it is), but for other reasons.

    I got into this with Professor Kerr about a year ago. He is EXTREMELY resistant to looking at the value of warrants in this manner I have outlined above. But, he is pretty much a blue koolaid slurper, so one would expect that out of him.

  30. #30 |  Frank | 

    “Actually, there are. 18 USC 242 and 243, if memory serves.”
    These penalties only apply if their corrupt colleagues will pursue them. Not much chance of that, agreed?

  31. #31 |  Real Liberty Media News Blog - 2012-08-20 | Real Liberty Media | 

    […] Masters — Sott.netAustrian Economics and Liberty: Right to Own Guns and Gold – Ron PaulThe Return of the General Warrant? | The AgitatorCows eating candy during the droughtHeard the rumour China is buying 6,000 tonnes of gold? It may […]

  32. #32 |  Mark Z. | 

    Burgers #29: Yeah, nice try. If the cops were just required to file the warrant application somewhere, they’d file the same ten pages of gibberish every time, raid the location, kill the suspect, and then, if anyone asks, say “Oops, our intern sent the wrong paperwork in.”

    You’re making the standard lawyer mistake of evaluating one part of the system under the assumption that every other part works perfectly. This is especially common with Fourth Amendment issues. You can see it in the logic behind the exclusionary rule: the police have an interest in getting convictions, and they might use illegal searches to get evidence to convict people; therefore, if the search is illegal, we exclude the evidence, thus undoing the effect of the search! Brilliant! Except the police just trashed your house and shot your dog, and we can’t undo that. And the police also have an interest in harassing and punishing people they don’t like. But the Supreme Court is full of white male Harvard Law graduates, and in their experience the police don’t behave like that.

  33. #33 |  Burgers Allday | 

    Burgers #29: Yeah, nice try. If the cops were just required to file the warrant application somewhere, they’d file the same ten pages of gibberish every time, raid the location, kill the suspect, and then, if anyone asks, say “Oops, our intern sent the wrong paperwork in.”

    No, under my system they would be stuck with what they filed. It would bea whole lot more secure than what happens now because the software would be written to be secure.

    This is especially common with Fourth Amendment issues. You can see it in the logic behind the exclusionary rule: the police have an interest in getting convictions, and they might use illegal searches to get evidence to convict people; therefore, if the search is illegal, we exclude the evidence, thus undoing the effect of the search! Brilliant! Except the police just trashed your house and shot your dog, and we can’t undo that.

    Um, yeah, I get that. Go to police4aqi.wordpress.com, read what I have written there and then get back to me.

  34. #34 |  markm | 

    Burgers: The problem is that you’re assuming that a court will eventually take notice of a defective warrant application and decide the case accordingly. Ask one of Radley’s former pet causes in Missouri, I forget the name, about how much difference a plainly defective warrant made in his trial for shooting a cop who broke into his home

  35. #35 |  Links #112 « The Honest Courtesan | 

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