A judge has ordered a Marietta lawyer to pay $198,383 in legal fees for filing unnecessary litigation in the highly contentious sex-tape case involving Waffle House chairman Joe Rogers Jr.
The order, issued by Fulton County State Court Judge Eric Richardson, directed
attorney David Cohen to reimburse Rogers the attorneys' fees. Rogers should not have had to pay his lawyers to defend litigation that was intended to harass Rogers with threats of disclosing sexual misconduct allegations, the judge said.
The order stems from ongoing litigation involving Rogers' former housekeeper, Mye Brindle, who worked for the Waffle House executive as a personal assistant from May 2003 to June 2012. Rogers has acknowledged having "infrequent sexual encounters" with Brindle but has denied sexually harassing her.
In June 2012, Brindle hired Cohen and co-counsel John Butters to represent her. A few weeks later, Brindle videotaped herself performing a sex act on Rogers in his bedroom, according to court records.
On July 16, 2012, Cohen wrote a letter to Rogers and encouraged him to reach a large monetary settlement to resolve sexual harassment allegations. A failure to do so could result in media attention, criminal charges, divorce and the destruction of families, the letter said.
This prompted Rogers' attorneys to file suit on Sept. 18, 2012, in Cobb County, where Brindle lived. It sought to prevent the dissemination of the recordings of any sexual encounters between Rogers and Brindle.
A day later, Cohen filed suit on Brindle's behalf in Fulton County, where Rogers lives. That complaint said Brindle "made audio and video recordings of some of the incidents of sexual harassment and battery including the sexual battery at the Sea Island home."
This lawsuit would eventually disclose the allegations of sexual encounters between Robers and Brindle.
In his order, issued last week, Richardson said Cohen should not have filed the suit in Fulton because the case had already been properly filed before a Cobb County court.
"The record is replete with evidence showing that Cohen's ultimate purpose was to harass Rogers' with threats of disclosure and actual disclosure of Brindle's sexual misconduct allegations," Richardson wrote. By filing the Fulton complaint, Cohen "unnecessarily expanded the proceedings ... for purposes of delay and harassment, and Rogers is entitled to all reasonable fees which are related to this sanctionable conduct."
Richardson is the second Fulton judge to order Cohen to reimburse Rogers' attorneys fees. A judge who used to preside over the case previously awarded Rogers $142,656 in fees, but the Georgia Court of Appeals overturned that award, saying it needed to be reconsidered and recalculated.
After doing so, Richardson granted Rogers the award of $198,383 in fees.
Rogers' lawyers have contended that Brindle's lawyers put her up to videotaping the sex act and say doing so constituted a felony. Cohen has previously said he and Butters did not encourage or assist the woman in the videotaping of the sex act in Rogers’ bedroom.
On Saturday, Robert Ingram, one of Rogers' lawyers, said a Fulton County grand jury is investigating the allegations.
"It is disappointing that lawyers as officers of the court would counsel their client to engage in criminal conduct in an attempt to enrich themselves by equipping the client with a spy camera, send her into my client's home to engage in sexual activity, surreptitiously videotape the activity and then threaten 'injurious publicity', 'media attention', 'incarceration' and 'divorce and destruction of families' unless 'millions' of dollars are paid," Ingram said in a statement.
According to sworn testimony, Brindle's lawyers were warned by their own investigators that "secret videotaping in the privacy of someone's home was illegal," Ingram said. "Unfortunately, the lawyers ignored that warning in furtherance of their extortion scheme."
Ingram added, "Lawyers are not above the law and must obey it just like everyone else."
On Sunday, John Floyd, one of Cohen's lawyers, disputed the allegations.
"Ms. Brindle's counsel deny engaging in any illegal conduct," he said. "They have asserted legitimate claims on behalf of their client and disagree with Mr. Ingram's selective reference to the investigator's testimony. The facts and the law will confirm that the video recording is legal."
Floyd called Ingram's accusations "part of a public relations strategy to spin his client as a victim. That strategy has nothing to do with the truth of what was actually done to Ms. Brindle."
Cohen will appeal Richardson's ruling on the reimbursement of the attorneys fees, Floyd said.