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Lawyers, ex-clerk surrender in ticket-fixing case

Posted March 31, 2009
Updated April 2, 2009

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— Four defense attorneys and a former court clerk surrendered Tuesday, a day after a Johnston County grand jury indicted them and three others on charges that they fixed drunken-driving and other traffic cases.

Former assistant Superior Court clerk Portia Snead and defense attorneys Chad Lee, Vann Sauls, Jack McLamb and Lee Hatch were booked and released on bond. All declined to comment as they entered and exited the Johnston County Courthouse.

Vann Sauls at courthouse Ticket-fixing scheme defendants surrender

Cyndi Jaeger, a former Johnston County assistant district attorney, was expected to surrender Wednesday.

Jaeger signed 70 dismissal forms, which defense attorneys used after she left the Johnston County District Attorney's Office in September 2007 to illegally drop charges in drunken-driving and other traffic cases, according to the indictments.

In one of the cases, a driving while impaired charge was dropped against a man who authorities said had a blood-alcohol content of 0.19 – North Carolina considers a 0.08 level too drunk to drive. The dismissal form contained no reason for the dismissal, aside from the statement "no reason to stop – no bad driving."

Other cases were dismissed because law enforcement officers purportedly wrote the wrong date on a ticket, because a magistrate was supposedly tardy in prosecuting a case or because there was no witness to an offense. The grand jury determined in handing down the indictments that such statements were false.

Jaeger was indicted on three felony counts for obstruction of justice and two misdemeanor counts for failing to perform duty of office. She faces 81 additional misdemeanor charges for failing to perform duty of office, which the grand jury will take up May 4 – that's the same day the other defendants will make their initial court appearance.

Snead was charged with six counts of altering official case records, felony obstruction of justice and illegally accessing a government computer. The indictments alleged that she removed Lee's and Hatch's names as the attorneys in two of the suspect cases from the computer system used by the state court system to track cases.

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.

The state Attorney General's Office is handling the prosecution of the case, and in an interesting twist, people whose DWI charges had been dismissed could be called as witnesses against the attorneys they hired.

Katherine Jean, general counsel for the North Carolina State Bar, said she couldn't comment specifically on the case nor acknowledge whether grievances have been brought against any of the attorneys.

"Ordinarily, while charges are pending against an attorney, the attorney is able to continue practicing law," Jean said.

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.

"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 left her job as an assistant district attorney in Randolph County last Wednesday, and Snead left the clerk of court's office the same day.

Investigators wouldn't say if the cases that were illegally dismissed could be tried again. Any decision would likely come after these six cases play out.

47 Comments

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  • tiblet Apr 1, 2009

    I wonder how long it will be before we find out how much money was exchanged for the 70 dismissal forms.

  • janettedder Apr 1, 2009

    KUDOS!! District Attorney Doyle is steadily cleaning up the mess left by her predecessor and doing a great job. Her office may be under the microscope but I have no qualms they will do just fine. It is good to finally see ethical and responsible people working to improve a system that is truly broken!

  • tgw Apr 1, 2009

    To say that my friend Susan Doyle is under the microscope is an understatement. She had better tow the line real straight-no deals for a while. She seems to want to do what is right.

    These sleezeballs need the book thrown at them. Considering that Roy Cooper will probably run for Richard Burr's Senate seat, he'll work hard to do this case right. I wonder if this case will conflict with the campaign- - My wager is it will be 12-18 months before this goes to trial. And-the election is 19 months away!!

  • gman1968 Apr 1, 2009

    Go to Previous message | Go to Next message | Back to MessagesMark as Unread | Print ReplyReply All Move...californianextelpurchasessan francisco 06
    Flag this message[ No Subject ]Tuesday, March 31, 2009 4:00 PM
    From: This sender is DomainKeys verified"G. C. Taylor" Add sender to ContactsTo: gmht1989@gmail.com
    To the person who says what a good job susan doyle is doing, you must not have spoken to anyone in law enforcement to get there opinion. the da's office is in the worst shape ever. there is an attitude of arrogance and a display of ignorance unlike ever before. many count the days until the next election. Harnett and Lee counties are even trying to separate from her district. They may give other reasons as to why they want to separate but the end justifies the means. Watch as the da's office tries to distance itself from this case. It is definitely time for change.

  • fatcat11 Mar 31, 2009

    Wow,the comments here are just plain ignorant....never see me here again....

  • leo-nc Mar 31, 2009

    "Believe me, all of this is not as it appears"-------

    Oh yes it is.

  • J.Blaine Mar 31, 2009

    Has anyone followed the dismissed cases to see if (1) any of the individuals received another ticket or been arrested for anything after the dismissal in question and (2) if any of the individuals have since been involved in an automobile accident. This looks like a project for WRAL!!!

  • original intent Mar 31, 2009

    Ms Doyle for DA for the District of Columbia!! Better yet U.S. AG....she could spend 10 lifetimes cleaning all the riff-raff out of the Potomac River basin!!

  • ghwhitaker1_old Mar 31, 2009

    "gotitmadecij" Where did you get the idea that law officers are ever charged? Every time a cop shoots someone, he is placed on administrative desk duty until the SBI figures out how to white wash it. Their investigative reports, by law, are not public records, and none of us ever get to know what is in them. As long as police are policing the police, one will never be charged.

  • ladyblue Mar 31, 2009

    I guess now all the DWI convictions passed by this judge will be re examined .They should be. If she was a fraudulent judge then all cases she found them guilty in should be dismissed as well, if they don't go back and find the ones guilty she didn't charge by frauding. Just trying to make it fair here.

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