MORELAND — To pass the time, firefighters at Coweta County Fire Station No. 4 spent Tuesday morning washing the firetrucks. There’s only so much television you can watch. One young firefighter figures he hasn’t been on a fire call in about a year.
If you’ve got business with the people over at the town hall or want to visit the museums of Moreland’s favorite sons, novelist Erskine Caldwell and newspaper columnist Lewis Grizzard, it’s best to call ahead. They’re only open on certain days.
The Southern-style siesta suits the 400 or so residents of this south Coweta County community just fine, and they guard their tongue and their residents closely. Few would talk publicly about the latest scandal in town.
But the arrest of Senior U.S. District Judge Jack T. Camp Jr., scion of a prominent and influential Coweta County family, is the buzz of local talk radio and legal circles.
The 67-year-old judge was arrested last week on federal charges that he bought cocaine and other illegal drugs while involved in a sexual relationship for the past several months with an exotic dancer. Camp is out on $50,000 personal recognizance bond.
Buddy Parker, a defense lawyer and former federal prosecutor, said he was dumbfounded by the arrest and couldn’t believe a sitting federal judge would engage in such risky behavior, especially with his knowledge of federal undercover cases and stings and their use of informants.
Parker said the arrest has rocked metro Atlanta’s legal community, and he thought it could reopen some cases that were tried under Camp.
“You know this has gone through the Bureau of Prisons like wildfire,” Parker said.
If so, the reaction in Moreland was much more restrained.
For those who know Camp, a history buff with a penchant for suspenders, bow ties and seersucker suits, and his family, it is a stunning blow. But they also withhold judgment.
“I was very shocked when these accusations came out. It seems like a strong case. I’m not one to prejudge, though,” said former state Rep. Lee Howell, now the advertising director at Chronic Automotive Group in Griffin.
Howell and his wife, Wanda Chronic Howell, have socialized with Camp and his wife, Elizabeth T. Camp. The two women have known each other since their college days at Sweet Briar, an exclusive women’s college in Virginia.
The Camp name is everywhere in this county of horse farms and antique and auto body shops.
The family can trace its roots in Coweta County to before the Civil War. The judge’s mother, Sophia, and sister Sally still live in the family homestead, a modest white frame house on Henry Camp Road, which runs parallel to the railroad tracks. The road is named for Camp’s grandfather, who owned a peach packing company.
The fire station and the museum devoted to Caldwell, the author of “Tobacco Road” and “God’s Little Acre,” sit on West Camp Street.
Elizabeth Camp has a notable career of her own. She was Newt Gingrich’s campaign manager in the 1970s, when he ran in the 6th Congressional District, and she was his Georgia administrator at the time when President Ronald Reagan appointed her husband as a federal district judge.
Their son, Harry, continued a family tradition this past summer by being sworn in as an attorney.
The Camps “have always seemed like a fine family,” Howell said, adding that he has “always had great respect for Judge Camp.”
News of the arrest shocked the lawyers who work in Camp’s courtroom.
Defense lawyer Jerry Froelich, who was returning from a meeting of the International Bar Association in Vancouver, Canada, on Tuesday, said Camp’s arrest had been the talk of the conference.
“A lot of people were asking me, ‘What was he like? And what was he thinking?’ ” Froelich said.
Froelich and other defense lawyers debated whether Camp’s arrest could open the door to court challenges from defendants convicted under the judge.
Parker, the former federal prosecutor, said Camp’s arrest “provides the opportunity” for a convicted felon to bring back a case.
Motions might cite “that the court was impaired or the court was addicted,” Parker said.
Cases where the defendant pleaded guilty would have no chance, Parker said, and other cases might lack merit for consideration.
“You would have to have some evidence,” Parker said. “You can’t just attach newspaper clippings.”
Froelich said, a defendant “would have to show Judge Camp was in league with one of the witnesses or ruling for the government because the government had something against him.”
One of Camp’s defense attorneys, Bill Morrison, said he doubted that the charges against the judge could prove fertile ground for appeals. While prisoners and jail-house lawyers may well file appeals, even “ingenious” defense lawyers would have a hard time making a persuasive case, he said.
Parker offered some insights to the case. He believes the only reason it is a federal case is because Camp is a federal judge. The amount of drugs mentioned in the arrest warrant would have normally meant a state case and probably a probated sentence, the former prosecutor said.
Camp also faces a gun charge, which could complicate matters for him, Parker said. Some federal gun charges could mean a mandatory five-year sentence, he said.
Morrison said the charge against his client isn’t at that level.