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Defense attorneys, court clerk plead guilty in ticket-fixing case

Posted January 25, 2010
Updated January 26, 2010

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— Four Johnston County defense attorneys and a former court clerk pleaded guilty Monday to illegally dismissing traffic cases, including citations for driving while impaired.

Chad Lee and Lee Hatch both pleaded guilty to 10 counts each of felony obstruction of justice and altering official case records and one count of criminal conspiracy. Lee was sentenced to at least four years in prison, while Hatch received a prison sentence of at least 3½ years.

Johnston County attorneys in ticket-fixing case Illegal DWI dismissals lead to guilty pleas

Both men were fined $10,000. They also agreed to surrender their law licenses, cooperate in the state investigation of the ticket-fixing scheme and reimburse clients for the legal fees they collected in the cases – $28,000 from Lee and $14,200 from Hatch.

Vann Sauls pleaded guilty to four counts of misdemeanor obstruction of justice and was sentenced to 90 days in jail, suspended to three years on probation. He also was ordered to pay a $2,500 fine and to perform 100 hours of community service.

Jack McLamb pleaded guilty to three counts of misdemeanor obstruction of justice, was fined $1,000 and was placed on probation for three years. He will have to serve three weekends in the Johnston County jail, however, because of a DWI conviction he had when he was in college.

Both Sauls and McLamb were ordered not to represent any criminal defendants while on probation, and they agreed to take continuing legal education classes before practicing law again. Sauls agreed to reimburse clients $2,350 for the legal fees he collected in the cases, while McLamb has already repaid his clients.

Former deputy court clerk Portia Snead pleaded guilty to two counts of misdemeanor obstruction of justice. She was sentenced to 45 days in jail, suspended to 18 months unsupervised probation.

Snead was the only one of the five to apologize in court for their actions.

Along with former Johnston County Assistant District Attorney Cyndi Jaeger, the four attorneys and Snead were indicted last March on charges that they altered court records and knowingly used illegal dismissal forms to get traffic cases against 36 people dropped.

Seventy dismissal forms with Jaeger's signature on them were filed after she left her job in September 2007, according to the indictments. The dismissal forms were filed for clients of the four defense attorneys. Snead deleted the attorneys' names from at least two cases from the courthouse computer system.

The majority of the defendants involved were clients of Lee, a former Johnston County prosecutor. McLamb's cases were traffic offenses and didn't involve DWI.

State Bureau of Investigation agent Randy Myers testified Monday that Lee, Hatch and Jaeger hatched the scheme when Jaeger put in notice that she would be leaving the Johnston County District Attorney's office.

Hatch told McLamb he would get a few of McLamb's cases dismissed and went to Jaeger's house to take care of it, Myers said. Hatch later had his name removed from computer and paper files for one of his dismissed cases, and the name on the files was switched to that of an attorney who never represented the defendant, Myers said.

Jaeger's attorney was in court Monday, listening to the pleas and the evidence laid out by Myers. It's unclear whether Jaeger, who is charged with three counts of obstruction of justice and 81 counts of failure to perform duty of office, will take her case to trial.

Lee has suffered emotionally since his indictment, said his attorney, Doug Parsons.

"He is struggling for what he's done. He's a broken man, but he's not beaten. He's not through," Parsons said, noting Lee wants to pursue a new career in repairing heating and air conditioning systems.

As he handed down sentences Monday, Superior Court Judge Henry Hight said the episode was a case of "stupidity born of arrogance."

"I don't understand why anybody would think this was a good idea," Hight said.

Attorney General Roy Cooper said in a statement Monday that such corruption among court officers threatens the integrity of the state's judicial system.

“We expect those who serve as officers of the court to have the highest ethical standards," Cooper said. "When the people we trust to uphold the law break it, our system of justice is threatened. Rooting out this corruption in the courts will help restore the system’s integrity.”

Johnston County District Attorney Susan Doyle asked the SBI in early 2008 to look into the high rate of dismissed drunken-driving cases in the county. A tracking system installed in October 2007 found several discrepancies in cases that were scheduled for trial but had been dismissed months earlier, she said.

A 2008 investigation by WRAL News found that 46 percent of the DWI charges filed in Johnston County in 2006 were dismissed, compared with 21 percent statewide and 20 percent in neighboring Wake County.

DWI cases require two signed forms before they are dismissed, and dismissals are filed with the court clerk's office.

A 2006 state law requires specific information be listed on dismissal sheets in DWI cases, including the driver's blood-alcohol concentration, any other pending impairment charges and an explanation for the dismissal. A copy of the dismissal is supposed to be sent to the district attorney and the head of the law enforcement agency that brought the charge.

Thirty-two cases that were part of the SBI probe involved alcohol-related charges, primarily DWI. Some of the defendants had alcohol levels in their system that were more than double the 0.08 level at which drivers are considered intoxicated in North Carolina.

Eleven of the defendants had been charged previously with drunken driving or have had subsequent DWI arrests.


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  • dxedame Jan 26, 2010

    "The County Commissioners have no clue.." Oh,I bet they do now! I also don't think they expected this thing to land their lap! But, hey - there you go! Let's don't let this happen again, alright boys?

  • way2go Jan 26, 2010

    So let's bash all lawyers because they are all bad. I'm sick of it. Is this not discremenating against them because of their profession? I do believe they did wrong, however, when was the last time you got a ticket and took it to a lawyer and said "just plead guilty for me." No, you say "do whatever you can to get me out of this, I don't want any points, I don't want my insurance to go up." Please stop whining and stop stereotyping all lawyers!

  • Myra Jan 26, 2010

    The PROSECUTOR is the one who had to sign off and agree to this crime and she is not being punished. The news says she may take her case to TRIAL. If she helped engineer a crime that everyone involved is convicted of -- how the heck can she get out of that? I smell a rat - why do we need a NC State Bar -- to protect the DA's / Prosecutors who do so much PROSECUTORIAL MISCONDUCT? GEESH Where's the NC AG Roy Cooper when the stuff hits the fan?

  • sinenomine Jan 26, 2010

    FYI to nanasix and possibly others - the organ which regulates the practice of law in this state is the North Carolina State Bar, not the "N.C. Bar Assoc."

    The website for the North Carolina State Bar is http://www.ncbar.gov/

  • bngexpress Jan 26, 2010

    it's wrong ,but this type of thing happens in joco all the time, from the police to the judges , i was witness to a accident in which a impaired driver caused a near head on collision , left the scene , driving with his front wheel knocked off, found with drugs in the truck , handcuffed, yet when the local pd figure out his close relative was the register of deeds he was released on the spot, without so much as a drug test, months later his case was dismissed,no fines no penalty no nothing , the worst part is that this individual is still driving.

  • Hip-Shot Jan 25, 2010

    It sounds like the old adage: "how much justice can you afford ?"

  • workingforthosethatwont Jan 25, 2010

    and just think...it's the lawyers that pretty much run the country. they make our laws, they determine penalties, they take our money, then they become politicians. nice!

  • rich son Jan 25, 2010

    it's very sad that this story is not a surprise

  • mulecitybabe Jan 25, 2010

    Cookie Pope is as effective as a potted plant. There's not an honest person among the Johnston Co Board of Commissioners. If you've got the money, you get what you want. If you just live here and pay taxes, they couldn't care less. Let's have more industrial plants in residential areas, how about it, Cookie? "It's for the community". Sound familiar? I wish every one of them would go to jail

  • KT6596 Jan 25, 2010

    The County Commissioners have no clue as to what goes on in Johnston County. It's the ideal good ole boy system in the entire nation. Wade Stewart, Allen Mims,Cookie Pope
    Jeff Carver, Ray Woodall, DeVan Barbour and Tony Braswell should be ashamed of their poor leadership and lack of insight which leads to this kind of mayhem. Shame on all of you!