MARIETTA, Ga. - A legal case unfolding in Cobb County raised questions about how much a judge should socialize with attorneys practicing in his courtroom. It involved a divorce case where a Roswell man believes the judge unfairly ruled against him.
Brian McCorvey made those Facebook pages part of his motion to remove Cobb Superior Court judge Gregory Poole from the case. According to his court filings, the judge and his wife "frequently socialize and enjoy leisure activities together" with the attorney representing McCorvey's ex-wife, both before and throughout this contentious divorce case.
"There's no way I could get a fair trial," McCorvey complained.
"You had no inkling that the judge and the judge's wife had this social relationship with your ex-wife's attorney?"
"No," he repeated. "None whatsoever."
McCorvey's wife sued for divorce in September, 2014, hiring Cobb lawyer Katie Kiihnl to represent her. After more than a year of pre-trial hearings, the five-day trial unfolded in March.
"Did you feel at the time you were getting a fair trial?"
"Yes, based on the comments I heard from the bench."
Then he got the judge's decision. Brian McCorvey was ordered to pay $144,000 in alimony plus a long list of other expenses. He wanted custody of both children. The judge split them up. But McCorvey considered that no victory. He said he lost every major dispute before Judge Poole.
"That day I decided that I needed to start digging and find out why because... it just didn't make sense,"
A friend who had testified on McCorvey's behalf noticed that judge Poole's wife happened to be Facebook friends with Katie Kiihnl, the ex-wife's attorney. That led to the discovery of a series of pictures and questions not fully answered.
"At first blush it clearly has some tremendously disturbing components," agreed Emory University Center for Ethics director Edward Queen.
McCorvey's friend made several screen grabs which he copied and included in the court filings.
Some of the pictures show attorney Kiihnl with Robert Leonard, another Cobb judge and close friend of judge Poole's. Leonard would surprise Kiihnl with a marriage proposal at a dinner last October with the Pooles and two other couples in attendance.
Another photo on Facebook showed the two smiling couples at Amelia Island Plantation in May of 2015 -- judge Poole's wife commenting "great dinner with great friends."
And in April, 2016, the two couples traveled out of town to go skeet shooting. Kiihnl and Judge Poole's wife posed with a third woman under the caption "Charlie's Angels."
The following Monday judge Poole would finalize the divorce order details in a conference call with Katie Kiihnl and McCorvey's attorney.
"And every single thing right down the line that Katie was asking was being given without even an argument," McCorvey complained.
Neither judge Poole nor attorney Kiihnl would offer the FOX 5 I-Team a comment about any of this. But Kiihnl did respond to the recusal motion in a court filing. She wrote the Facebook pictures "create an appearance of impropriety that simply does not exist." She pointed out the picture at Amelia Island Plantation was taken at a bar conference attended by hundreds of lawyers and judges. Another picture was from a Cobb Chamber of Commerce function, again with lots of people. The skeet shooting she wrote was an event attended "by other people who do business in Cobb County" but wouldn't tell us how many when we asked that specific question. Kiihnl wrote her profession "requires collegiality" and judges and lawyers often socialize.
Perhaps, but Edward Queen, the Emory Ethics Center director, told us there's one step required.
"They have to acknowledge it."
We showed Queen those Facebook pages. The Center stresses that any action undermining the public's respect for government institutions should be carefully considered.
"It starts to raise suspicions in people's minds," Queen pointed out.
"I imagine there are going to be a lot of people who are going to watch this story and say a judge should never be hanging out after hours with a lawyer who's practicing in his courtroom," I asked him. "Is that realistic?"
"No," Queen answered. "To say you can't interact is absurd."
"So you're saying it's ok to hang out with the judge after hours, just make sure everybody knows about it?"
"Right," Queen replied. "And let the opposing attorneys decide whether this is something they can live with or not."
Or the judge could voluntarily recuse himself. That's what the original judge did in this divorce case. His name? Judge Rob Leonard, who would eventually become engaged to attorney Kiihnl. Instead, the case was assigned to Judge Leonard's friend Judge Poole.
McCorvey believes he deserve a new trial.
"Yes, absolutely," he agreed. "And a jury trial."
"Who's to say you won't get a worse result if you try this again?"
"There's no way."