ATLANTA – A 67-year-old federal judge's wild relationship with a stripper started with a lap dance, prosecutors said, and quickly escalated into escapades of prostitution and gun-toting drug deals for cocaine and prescription pills.
Senior Judge Jack T. Camp, a veteran jurist who had achieved a status that allowed him a lighter caseload, now finds himself in a peculiar position, in front of one of his peers, and with lawyers combing through his decisions, wondering whether they have grounds to challenge them.
"I don't know whether the allegations are true or whether they infected the decision making, but it's incumbent upon me to raise these issues," said Gerry Weber, a civil rights attorney who is readying an appeal in a case that Camp ruled on in June.
Camp, a Vietnam War veteran who was appointed by Ronald Reagan, built a reputation for handing out stiff sentences, including for drug convictions. He could face years behind bars on drug and gun charges. The judge's attorney has said he intends to plead not guilty.
The stripper, who previously had a felony drug trafficking conviction, had been secretly working with the FBI since the spring to build a case against the judge. In exchange, prosecutors pledged not to charge her.
Camp's relationship with the dancer, who was not identified in court documents, began earlier this year. A day after receiving his first dance, he returned to the Goldrush Showbar for more dances, and added sex and cocaine to his tab, authorities said.
Over the next few months, the two used cocaine and other drugs together, sometimes at the strip club, and the judge would pay $40 to $50 to join her getting high, according to a sworn statement.
In June, the judge followed the stripper to a house in the Atlanta suburb of Marietta to buy drugs, carrying a semiautomatic handgun with him he later told her he brought to protect her, the affidavit said.
The relationship finally unraveled Friday. Camp told the stripper he would try to help with her criminal record and advised her to tell a potential employer who had rejected her application that "it was a minor offense and that one of the judges on the court can explain that to him," according to the affidavit.
A few hours later, the dancer asked Camp to follow her to the Publix grocery store parking lot in northeast Atlanta to meet a drug dealer. When she said she feared for her safety, authorities said he responded with a dash of bravado: "I not only have my little pistol, I've got my big pistol so, uh, we'll take care of any problems that come up."
Camp, who is married with two grown children, then gave the stripper $160 to buy the drugs from an undercover officer. When the agent, posing as a dealer, told Camp he had given the two a few extra pills, the judge sounded pleased. "We'll call you again," the judge said.
FBI agents swarmed the judge's car about 10 minutes later when he drove to the Velvet Room, a nearby night club. They recovered the plastic bag containing blue pills and a white substance, along with two guns from his front seat.
Not only has the case shocked the legal community, it has created a conflict of interest mess. For Camp's bail hearing, prosecutors were flown in from Washington and a magistrate traveled from Alabama because the local judges recused themselves from the case.
Camp supervised several cases while he was being investigated, including an April trial involving a pilot charged with shipping cocaine for drug traffickers. A jury acquitted the pilot after a trial in which prosecutors carted out 174 kilograms of cocaine in front of the jury several times.
It's unclear whether any of the judge's decisions will be revisited.
"If you could establish that a judge was under the influence of some substance at the time he presided or ruled, then you could conceive of a basis for a challenge,' said Pete Donaldson, a criminal defense attorney based in Albany, Ga. "You can envision all manner of circumstances where that might come into play."
The judge grew up on a working farm in rural Coweta County, and he enjoyed talking to colleagues about raising timber, pumpkins and cows on a plot of land he still owns.
During his more than two decades on the federal bench, he hated when attorneys grandstanded and sometimes required them to cite the specific federal code when they dared raise an objection. But he always maintained a cordial relationship, said defense attorney Page Pate.
"He was a true Southern gentleman who was definitely tough with defenders — even more so in drug cases," said Pate.
Camp sentenced two men accused of killing DeKalb County Sheriff-elect Derwin Brown to life in prison without parole in 2004, and gave the personal doctor to a professional wrestler who killed himself, his wife and their 7-year-old son 10 years behind bars for prescription drug-related charges.
At a brief hearing Monday, the judge found himself surrounded by four defense attorneys. He flashed a quick smile to his family before he was released on a $50,000 bond.
William Morrison, who tried several cases before Camp before becoming his attorney, assured the judge's family that he was doing fine, and then told reporters Camp would likely take a leave of absence.
"This is really a case between Judge Camp and his wife. It's not about Judge Camp being a judge. It's about him being a husband," said Morrison, who added: "It is not a case about judging. It's a case about judgment."