Six charged with fixing Johnston DWI cases
Posted March 30, 2009
Updated April 1, 2009
Smithfield, N.C. — A Johnston County grand jury on Monday indicted a former prosecutor, a former court clerk and four defense lawyers on charges that they fixed drunken-driving cases.
Former Assistant District Attorney Cyndi Jaeger, former assistant court clerk Portia Snead and defense attorneys Chadwick Lee, Jonathan Lee Hatch, Jack McLamb and Vann Sauls were indicted in the case.
Jaeger was charged with three counts of felony obstruction of justice, and she could face 81 misdemeanor counts of failing to perform her duty of office. A grand jury is expected to discuss those possible charges on May 4.
Snead was charged with six counts of altering official case records, felony obstruction of justice and illegally accessing a government computer.
Lee was charged with 65 counts of altering official case records, felony obstruction of justice and conspiracy; Hatch was charged with 30 counts of altering official case records and felony obstruction of justice; McLamb was charged with six counts of altering official case records and felony obstruction of justice; and Sauls was charged with 11 counts of altering official case records, felony obstruction of justice and conspiracy.
Johnston County District Attorney Susan Doyle last year asked the State Bureau of Investigation to look into the high rate of dismissed drunken-driving cases in the county. A WRAL investigation found that 46 percent of the driving while impaired charges filed in Johnston County in 2006 were dismissed, compared with 21 percent statewide and 20 percent in neighboring Wake County.
Doyle said a tracking system installed in October 2007 found several discrepancies in cases that were scheduled for trial but had been dismissed months earlier.
Sources said Jaeger gave a stack of signed dismissal forms to at least one defense attorney, and the forms continued to be used in cases after she left the Johnston County prosecutor's office in September 2007. She later worked as an assistant district attorney in Randolph County, but she left that position last Wednesday.
"Further inquiry revealed that the former assistant district attorney dismissed an alarming number of driving while impaired cases by utilizing an inappropriate dismissal form and by not stating the reasons for the dismissal orally in open court as required by law," Doyle said in a statement.
Jaeger's attorney, David Freedman, said she had "no criminal intent" in the case.
"She regrets the turn of events," Freedman said. "She has the utmost respect for the position of prosecutor."
The Attorney General's Office will handle the prosecution of the cases.
"The integrity of our criminal justice system depends on the integrity of the people who serve as officers of the court," Attorney General Roy Cooper said in a statement. "The grand jury has issued indictments based on the evidence presented by our investigators and prosecutors, and we will pursue these criminal corruption charges.”
Snead, who left the clerk of court's office last Wednesday, was given a $10,000 secured bond, while the others indicted were given $25,000 secured bonds.
"This is a sad situation for all involved," said Hart Miles, an attorney representing McLamb.
Miles said McLamb has "cooperated fully" with the SBI investigation and noted that McLamb wasn't involved with any DWI cases, only two speeding tickets and a driving with a revoked license case.
All of the defendants were expected to surrender to authorities on Tuesday.